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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Normal lumbar MRI scans in patients with lower back pain following injury

  • Author(s): Moheimani, Roya
  • Ahadiat, Omeed
  • Talmor, Guy
  • Niska, Jared
  • Modaber, Morteza
  • Khan, Sana
  • Shamie, Nick
  • Shamie, Nick
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

Background: There have been numerous studies highlighting abnormal lumbar spine magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings in asymptomatic patients, exhibiting a correlation of increased findings with age; however, little research has been done to investigate the likelihood of normal MRI scans in patients who present with lower back pain.1This study is pertinent to understanding (1) whether MRI scans are given to patients who do not necessarily require such extensive testing and whether current profligate medical and (2) work-related expenses can be avoided.


Methods: In this study, 189 lumbar spine MRI scans of patients who were 30 years or younger, presenting with lower back pain following a personal or work-related injury, were analyzed for potential findings or lack thereof. The patients were grouped into categories of “normal MRI” and “abnormal MRI” findings based on criteria created by two board certified orthopedic surgeons.


Results: The results showed that approximately 23% of the subjects had “normal MRI” scans and therefore lacked any form of significant findings which should be suggestive of lower back pain. No gender difference was observed between complaints and MRI findings.

Conclusion: These results demonstrate that the MRI scans of a significant portion of patients (23%) reporting lower back pain do not show significant abnormalities sufficient enough to explain their symptoms. This may indicate that a more thorough screening process needs to be developed due to patients report their symptoms under the influence of psychological and psychosocial factors, or that current MRI technology does not allow visualization of some anatomical component that may be causing lower back symptoms in these patients, or perhaps their causative pathology in unrelated to the spine.

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