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Do I need a scan?

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July 20, 2017

From a clinical point of view, scans aren’t actually that bene?cial and sometimes can be detrimental to your long-term clinical outcomes.

Right behind the question ‘What is an osteopath?’ which we covered in the previous article, and maybe ‘Is it fun cracking people?’ — to which the answer is, ‘Well, yeah, sometimes it can be’ —comes the question, ‘Do I need to get an X-ray or scan?’.

In short the answer to this question, 99 per cent of the time, is ‘no’. In fact getting imaging could be far more harmful for you than good. For a start, from a purely practical point of view, getting a scan is usually associated with time away from work or family; getting a scan costs money, sometimes a significant amount of money; and a lot of the time exposes you to radiation which is not good for your health.

And that’s just the practical side of things. From a clinical point of view, scans aren’t actually that beneficial and sometimes can be detrimental to your long-term clinical outcomes or, in lay terms, whether or not you will get better in the future.

So why aren’t they all that beneficial? As osteopaths we are classified as primary health-care practitioners which means that we are educated enough to be able to provide you with a provisional diagnosis for your condition based on what you have told us and what we have found with special testing.

We are also able to rule out anything more sinister being at play by identifying any potential red flags. Furthermore, a scan will usually have findings but a lot of the time those findings may have little to no relevance to you as an individual.

As examples, 40 per cent of people with no reported lower back pain have been diagnosed on imaging as having a disc bulge; and, even more startling, in a separate study, 98 per cent of those people 
X-rayed had degeneration occurring in their spine (neck).

All of those people had no neck pain. I could go on and on with facts like these, but the take-home point is that a scan’s findings most likely have nothing to do with the pain you are presenting to us for. Scans can also be quite damaging because they give a definition or a diagnosis to live by.

In the age of technology a lot of people will go home and ‘Google’ their condition and what they will find is the worst of the worst. What we know about pain is that fear associated with it can make it worse in the short term and may actually cause pain to become ongoing.

So perhaps before you go and get a scan, make an appointment with an osteopath. Let them evaluate and treat you for your individual impairment and functional disability, at the very least it will save you the exposure to radiation!

Have you visited an Osteo? Share your experience below in the comments.

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