Back pain | When is the right time for an MRI scan?

What is an MRI scan?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allows health professionals to look inside a patient’s body.

It is considered a very safe way of producing images that can help diagnose medical conditions.

The scanner uses a high-strength magnet, radio waves and computers to create images that can by your healthcare professional.

What does it show?

  • MRI scans are extremely sensitive and, unlike X-rays which only show bones, MRI scans show bones and soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments and discs.

BUT

  • Research has shown that many of the findings on MRI scans are often found in people without pain.
  • It is normal to have an element of wear and tear or changes to some of the muscles, ligaments or discs as we get older.
  • One study found that up to 90% of healthy people over the age of 60 were reported to have changes to their spinal discs on MRI. It is not an indication that there is something wrong with the spine.
  • While MRI provides excellent pictures of your body structure, it may not be able to pinpoint the specific source of your pain.

When do I need a scan?

MRI for spinal pain should only be used when:

  • A serious condition is suspected. Less than 1% of all back pain is due to serious disease or injury.
  • If symptoms of numbness and weakness in the legs or arms are getting worse despite treatment.
  • If the results of the scan are likely to change your options for treatment.

Thorough examination can determine the best course of management and whether you require a scan.

 

Is something seriously wrong?

  • Spinal pain is very common, with 80% of people experiencing pain in their backs at least once in their lifetimes.
  • Most new spinal pain will get better on its own within 12 weeks.
  • Less than 1% of all back pain is due to serious disease or injury.
  • Research suggests there is no relationship between the level of pain you feel and the severity of your condition.
  • Health care professionals such as osteopaths, physiotherapists and doctors are specifically trained to identify spinal pain from serious causes.
  • Special questions and a thorough physical examination are very effective for identifying serious causes of back pain.
  • Sometimes blood tests can be a helpful part of the examination process.

 

Surely I need a scan to tell me what’s wrong with my long standing back pain?

  • The information we get from MRI scans is often unhelpful in treating long standing pain (pain that has persisted for longer than 3 months).
  • Musculoskeletal health care professionals are trained to recognise patterns of pain which indicate when an MRI scan may be useful.
  • Scans tell us nothing about how fit, tight, weak and sensitive our body’s tissues have become. These are often reasons for ongoing pain.
  • Even with modern techniques and knowledge there is often no immediate cure for chronic pain. However, there are many ways to help manage the condition.
  • Your health care professional can discuss techniques, strategies and resources that maybe useful to help manage your problem.

 

Helpful resources

Queen Square Private Healthcare

The British Pain Society

 

Commonly requested blood tests

Musculoskeletal clinicians often suggest that patients require blood tests in order for a diagnosis to be made, a condition to be excluded or to repeat a test that monitors a particular situation.  Here is some information about the most common types of blood test that are routinely requested.

A Full Blood Count (FBC) is a test that identifies the different types and numbers of cells in your blood. It is a good all-round measure of health. This test can help your doctor decide whether you have anaemia (lack of haemoglobin), whether you have normal white blood cells (which help to fight infection) and normal platelets (cells that clot the blood).

An Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) test screens for inflammation or infection. When you are unwell, whether you have a sore throat, arthritis or almost any other problem, the ESR is raised. The ESR test is often used to monitor whether your treatment is working.

The Anti Nuclear Antibody (ANA) test is ordered to help screen for autoimmune disorders and is most often used as one of the tests to diagnose systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Depending on the person’s symptoms and the suspected diagnosis, ANA may be ordered along with one or more other autoantibody tests. Other laboratory tests associated with presence of inflammation, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and/or C-reactive protein (CRP), may also be ordered. ANA may be followed by additional tests that are considered subsets of the general ANA test and that are used in conjunction with the person’s clinical history to help rule out a diagnosis of other autoimmune disorders.

An International Normalised Ratio (INR) test will assess whether your blood is clotting normally. It also measures the effect of Warfarin therapy, a drug used to slow down the blood clotting process and help prevent thrombosis.

An Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time (APTT) test is another means of assessing whether your blood is clotting normally.

Elecs (Urea and Electrolytes) is a common test which helps to assess the body’s general condition. It is frequently used to assess whether the kidneys are working properly or to monitor people who take various tablets such as blood pressure medication.

A Liver Function Test (LFT) measures various proteins, enzymes and waste products made or processed by the liver. It helps to determine whether someone may have gall stones, and can identify problems with the liver, such as hepatitis. Some medication can cause liver function tests to become abnormal.

A Glucose test measures how much sugar is in the blood. High levels of glucose in the blood can be a sign of diabetes.

Thyroid Function Tests (TFT [TSH]) look at the activity of the thyroid gland, or levels of thyroid hormone if you are taking supplements. Thyroid hormones control gland production of energy by cells.

A CRP (C-reactive Protein) test measures the concentration in the blood of a protein that indicates inflammation caused by illness, for example during a flare up of rheumatoid arthritis.

A Prot EP (Protein Electrophoresis) test measures different proteins in the blood. Electrophoresis allows us to see proteins such as albumin, which carries substances around the blood and antibodies to infections.

Latex RF is a blood test for rheumatoid factor, a type of antibody present in the blood of some people who have Rheumatoid Arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints.

A PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test is a way of checking the activity of the prostate gland. A high levels of PSA may be a sign of cancer, but it is often raised in other non-cancerous prostate conditions, or if you have an infection. It is not a perfect test for prostate cancer, however, so if your test result is not normal, you will probably need another sort of test, called a biopsy, to be sure whether or not cancer is present.

Amylase is a test that mainly helps to diagnose or monitor diseases of the pancreas. The pancreas helps with digestion and controls blood sugar levels.

Specific things that are tested for in bloods include:
B12 and Folate, which are vitamins needed to make red blood cells. Low levels of Vitamin B12 and folate are associated with a type of anaemia, memory loss and depression.

Ferritin, a protein that stores iron in the body and is important in red blood cell production. Low levels can lead to anaemia.

Cardiac Enzymes (Card Enz), which can be released into the blood by damage to all muscles. As the heart is a muscle, measurement of cardiac enzymes can be used to diagnose a heart attack

Bone Profile, which measures proteins, minerals and enzymes involved in bone turnover. Bone reabsorption is increased by some diseases and these tests can indicate problems with bone.

Cholesterol (Chol), a soft, fatty substance present in all parts of the body. With time, these fats may deposit on the walls of blood vessels so they become narrower, increasing risk of circulatory problems and heart disease. A cholesterol blood test can help determine your risk of developing these.

Urate, a breakdown product of DNA and RNA usually passed out of the body in urine. If the urate level in the blood builds up, it can crystalise and cause inflammation in the joints – a condition called Gout. A urate blood test can help diagnose Gout and monitor the response to treatment.

If you have specific questions about any blood tests that you are having, you should discuss this with the requesting clinician.

 

Safety of Manual Therapy and Manipulation

Introduction
Patients presenting with musculoskeletal symptoms might be offered manual therapy or spinal manipulation as part of a treatment plan or in isolation. The use of manual therapy and spinal manipulation is therefore frequent and the purpose of this essay is to ensure patient safety and the correct use of this specific treatment modality. Whilst manual therapy is considered patient-centred, it remains a passive form of physical therapy where the therapist applies the treatment to the patient.

Broadly, manual therapy is a method of treatment that is commonly used by musculoskeletal physicians, osteopaths, physiotherapists and chiropractors. It aims to quickly reduce pain and improve movement (1) and is clinically and cost-effective (2). Manual therapy treatment can include techniques that glide joints in a rhythmic manner (mobilisation), gap joint surfaces (manipulation) and/or use muscle contractions to restrict or loosen joints. Manual therapy rapidly reduces pain and muscle spasm and allows help with movement. Additionally, manual therapy can help exercise muscles that are not working due to pain – this can help with exercises (3).

Manual therapy is effective in treating neck and back pain and is recommended in national and international treatment guidelines (4). The majority of patients with spinal pain can expect to see a reduction in pain and improvement in function following a course of manual therapy.

The commonest adverse reaction to manual therapy is treatment soreness, which can last a day or two (5, 15). This is a normal, temporary response to having a stiff area of the spine stretched or weak muscles exercised.
Spinal manipulation techniques involve gapping joint surfaces to effectively reduce joint stiffness, muscle spasm and pain (1). There are very rare cases of patients having serious adverse events, including stroke and death, following these techniques (6). These events are associated with damage to the arteries running through the neck. The ‘average’ risk of such events is estimated to be approximately 1 in 2.5 million treatments. (12)

Objectives
This essay is aimed at providing clinical guidelines for the use of manual therapy and spinal manipulation by physicians and clinicians that perform manual therapy and spinal manipulation. The purpose of which is to reduce the risks of adverse reactions and clinical complications.

Definitions
Manual therapy: a general term including hands-on techniques that glide joints in a rhythmic manner (mobilisation), gap joint surfaces (manipulation) and/or use muscle contractions to restrict or loosen joints.

Joint mobilisation: movement up to, but within, normal physiological ranges of joint mobility.

Spinal manipulation: gapping joint surfaces to effectively reduce joint stiffness, muscle spasm and pain.

In practice there is often a ‘grey area’ where joint mobilisation tapers into spinal manipulation. These guidelines are not specifically directed towards spinal manipulation and they should be equally borne in mind for all joint mobilisation techniques. Therefore, these guidelines apply to all forms of manual therapy, and safety depends not just upon good manual technique but also a satisfactory history and musculoskeletal assessment before proceeding to therapeutic procedures of any kind.

It is important to clarify the use of the term “spinal manipulation” in comparison to “joint mobilisation”. Whilst both terms are often used in conjunction when describing manual therapy in general, spinal manipulation’s precise medical usage describes the facilitation of movement beyond normal physiological but within anatomical ranges. This distinction as a therapeutic modality must be clearly documented in clinical records.

Development & evidence base
The evidence base for this guideline has been described in the Introduction. As further evidence emerges for the use of manual therapy and spinal manipulation and the contraindications thereof, clinical guidelines will be updated. Ongoing research into the safety of cervical spine manipulation (13) is likely to impact upon this guideline and it will remain the author’s responsibility to inform the clinical team should any changes in practice need to occur.

Guidance
All patients must have a clinical assessment of their presenting complaint prior to undertaking manual therapy/spinal manipulation, which will include a full case history and physical assessment. Should diagnostic imaging or tests be necessary, all results should be obtained prior to deciding upon the employment of manual therapy or spinal manipulation.

At the first treatment an explanation of the procedure and its possible adverse effects should be given to the patient.

Patients should be asked to give their verbal consent before the first treatment. A record that this information has been imparted and the patient has consented should be recorded in the notes.

Formal written consent is not mandatory (with the exception of persons under 16 in the UK, in which case a parent or carer should be present during the consent process and sign the consent form). This consent form should be signed by the patient and the practitioner and one copy filed in the clinical case notes.

Contraindications to treatment
Whilst spinal manipulation and mobilization remains an extremely safe form of treatment, a number of contraindications to treatment exist and must be adhered to.

Absolute contraindications to treatment
• Where it is more likely that the risks of spinal manipulation will outweigh the potential benefits: –
• Bone disease – tumours, metastases, infection, fractures, bone weakness (long term steroids/osteomalacia, severe osteoporosis), severe inflammatory types of arthritis (not osteoarthritis).
• Neurological considerations – spinal cord compression, moderate to severe nerve root compression from a disc/spondylolisthesis, myeloradiculopathy.
• Rheumatological considerations – active rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and polymyalgia rheumatica are all contraindications. The last is particularly important as to use manipulation may delay the prescription of steroids and thus risk retinal artery thrombosis and blindness.
• Vascular considerations – the risk of the patient having an aortic aneurysm, severe coagulation deficiencies, severe vertebro-basilar insufficiency (see below), ischemic cervical and thoracic myelopathy must be considered and ruled out where possible. The vascular supply to the spinal cord is only just adequate. A spinal cord already ischaemic should not have manipulative techniques inflicted upon it.
• Lack of clinical hypothesis – where the exact cause of the pain is unclear and there is no obvious mechanism of injury, spinal manipulation should not be used.
• Issues of consent or co-operation – where the patient is unable to clearly understand the aims of treatment, is unable to give their informed consent or where the patient is unable to co-operate with treatment.
• Hypermobility that is severe enough to produce frank instability – lax ligament syndromes/spondylolisthesis. The rheumatoid neck must never be manipulated as life could be at risk by the posterior dislocation of the odontoid process through a weakened or ruptured transverse ligament. Grisels syndrome (1) has been demonstrated radiologically that in children with upper respiratory tract infections there may be hypermobility of the upper cervical spine.

Relative contraindications
• Where it is less clear whether the risks of spinal manipulation will outweigh the potential benefits.
• Adverse reactions to similar treatments in the past.
• Intervertebral disc prolapse – where there has been shown to be a prolapse that is large enough to be causing frank neurological compression.
• Pregnancy – Spinal manipulation and its risks need to be discussed in relation to precipitating a miscarriage (in the first trimester) or premature labour (in the last trimester). The overall risks are low during the second trimester where gentle techniques are advised. (14)
• Osteopenia, osteoporosis, metabolic bone disease
• Hypermobility syndromes with ligamentous laxity. If all movements on pre-manipulative positioning of the patient are painful, manipulation should not be attempted
• Psychological dependence upon manipulative treatment.

Vertebro-Basilar Arterial insufficiency
Episodes of vertebro-basilar arterial insufficiency have been reported to be provoked by manipulation of the cervical spine. The anatomy of the vertebral artery is such that rotation of the upper cervical spine of 30 degrees or more might cause a diminution and even an interruption of the blood flow of the vertebro-basilar artery opposite to the direction of the rotation which may lead to a fatality, although recent evidence suggests the contrary. (16)

The key to the prevention of these problems is in the taking of a careful clinical history. Any symptom such as vertigo, giddiness on turning suddenly or standing up, of loss of consciousness or transient hemiparesis must be carefully elicited and all further neck rotation avoided, (12, 13).

Given a normal history it is reasonable to proceed with the examination having warned the patient to report any giddiness or other relevant symptom and to desist immediately if this happens.

Post treatment management
Risk of minor and moderate adverse events to manual therapy/spinal manipulation is high (circa 50%) but the effects are mild and short lived (15). Patients should be encouraged to contact their clinician should any adverse event last longer than 72 hours. Post treatment, patients may feel sleepy, light-headed, or experience some aching in the areas in which treatment has been directed. Should symptoms progress acutely, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Management of musculoskeletal ‘red flags’
Patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of cauda equina symptoms, muscle weakness or any conditions referred to in 9.1 should not be treated using manual therapy or spinal manipulation and must be managed in a clinically relevant way.

References
1. Herzog W. (2010) The Biomechanics of Spinal Manipulation. Journal of Bodyworks and
Movement Therapies. 14:280-286.

2. Michaleff A.Z., Lin C.-W.C.,Maher C.G., van Tulder M.W. (2012) Spinal Manipulation
Epidemiology: Systematic Review of Cost-Effectiveness Studies. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 22:655-662.

3. Haavik H., Murphy B. (2012) The role of spinal manipulation in addressing disordered sensorimotor integration and altered motor control. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 22:768-77.

4. Carragee E.J, van der Velde, et al., Carroll L.J. et al., (2009) Treatment Of Neck Pain: Noninvasive Interventions. Results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000–2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 32:S141-S175.

5. Carnes D., Thomas S, Mars T.S., Mullinger B., Froud R, Underwood M. (2010) Adverse events and manual therapy: A systematic review. Manual Therapy.15: 355–363.

6. Miley M.L., Wellik K.E., Wingerchuk D.M., Demaerschalk B.M. (2008) Does Cervical Manipulative Therapy Cause Vertebral Artery Dissection and Stroke? The Neurologist. 14:1, 66-73.

7. Cassidy J.D., Boyle E., Côté P., He Y., Hogg-Johnson S., Silver F.L., Bondy S.L.(2008) Risk of Vertebrobasilar Stroke and Chiropractic Care. Results of a Population-Based Case-Control and Case-Crossover Study. Spine. 33:4S. S176-S183.

8. Kerry R., Taylor A.J., Mitchell J., McCarthy C., Brew, J. (2008) Manual Therapy and Cervical Arterial Dysfunction, Directions for the Future.

9. Grisel (1930) Enucleation de l’atlas et torticollis nasopharyngien. Presse Med 38,50.

10. Cyriax (1982) Textbook of Orthopaedic Medicine.

11. Ernst and Cantor (2006) A Systematic Review of Spinal Manipulation. JR Soc. Med. 99:279-280

12. Ernst E. (2010) Vascular accidents after neck manipulation: cause or coincidence? Int J Clin Pract;64:673-7

13. Taylor, Alan J. et al. (2010)
A ‘system based’ approach to risk assessment of the cervical spine prior to manual therapy
International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine , Volume 13 , Issue 3 , 85 – 93

14. Stuber, Kent Jason et al (2012)
Adverse events from spinal manipulation in the pregnant and postpartum periods: a critical review of the literature
Chiropr Man Therap. 2012; 20: 8.

15. Carnes, Dawn et al (2009)
Adverse events in manual therapy: a systematic review
National Council for Osteopathic Research

16. Erhardt, Jonathan et al (2015)
The immediate effect of atlanto-axial high velocity thrust techniques on blood flow in the vertebral artery: A randomized controlled trial
Manual Therapy Vol. 20 Iss. 1, February 2015

‘Infantile Colic’

So much has been written about ‘infantile colic’ recently and there are so many so-called ‘cures’ available that it must be totally bewildering for parents of newborns that are crying persistently or distressed.

In our practice, with the help of a referring GP and the practice Health Visitors we have discussed the syndrome at length and have come up with the following definition. This is nothing new, and I feel churlish having to redirect you to our legal page at this point, but we thought it might just help disspell some of the myths out there surrounding colic.

‘Colic’ in infants (<6 months old) could be described as a collection of simple symptoms, (such as abdominal discomfort, increased hiccups, difficulty winding and flatulence) which is possibly caused by something as simple as a hypertonic thoracic diaphragm. In the absence of pathology and with medically qualified clinical leadership, simple musculoskeletal, short-term management of the hypertonic diaphragm using inhibition and a suitable feeding/winding/exercise regime might resolve the condition, although for this there is no evidence whatsoever. There is no evidence to suggest that ‘Colic’ is caused by a disruption of any form of neurovascular tissue, subluxation, lesion or allergy.

Hardly groundbreaking stuff. However, it’s a starting point and hopefully will promote discussion as we are really interested in people’s opinions. It would be very nice to hear from parents that have been through the ‘I have a collicky baby and I’m at the end of my tether’ as well as health professionals that either agree, disagree or something politely in between.

We are particularly interested in what evidence there is out there that people are using to base anything other than musculoskeletal treatment on. I’m not trying to offend – I just think that an enlightening debate is needed and this might help parents decide what is likely to help or not.

”Yoof’ Culture’ – ‘Badminton Magazine’ October 2004 Issue

So much water has passed under the bridge since I last wrote; Wimbledon, the Olympics,  Euro 2004 (and yes I do regret the snidely remarks I made in my last article about our footballers being tired!).

I have had an increasing number of emails from injured readers – most of which are printable, (Alan from Burnley, thanks for the offer but I am busy for the next 20 years!).  But please feel free to carry on with the questions – I try to answer them all but can’t guarantee I’ll be of any help!

I am getting a number of emails from junior players which has started to alarm me.  My article in January’s issue has sparked a forest fire of reports of ill health – the majority of which are limb injuries in the under 18s.  I fear something must be done – especially if we are going to build on our recent success as a badminton playing nation.

To set about this task I did some soul searching – after all, I was a teenager once too.  Sadly, all I can remember are brief snapshots of my teenage life (Duran Duran, the beautiful Clare Webster, Glandular Fever and Acne) so I thought I’d make some enquiries and question the poor injured juniors that have been filling my ‘Inbox’ for the last few months.

Regrettably, some of the juniors I spoke to had developmental anomalies and there are two common pathologies in ‘athletic’ teenagers, both of which affect the knees.  The first is Osteochondromalacia Patellae which presents itself  underneath the surface of the Patella (knee cap).  The X-Ray images show a roughening of the inferior surface.  This roughening interferes with the tracking of the patella apparatus and causes pain and inflammation of the knee.  Osteochondromalacia Patellae has a higher incidence in female teenagers.

The second pathology, standing boldly in the male teenage corner, is the wonderfully named Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease.  This develops when the quadriceps tendon seemingly over-pulls on it’s insertion which is situated just below the knee.  This traction forces the body to lay down more bone and the sufferer reports pain (from the associated tendonitis) and bony prominence (knobbly knees).

The cause of these conditions is unknown, however, posture, genetics and over activity are widely cited as being contributing factors.  Sadly, badminton is the type of sport that places a great deal of strain on the knees and therefore Osgood-Schlatter’s and Osteochondromalacia end future playing careers prematurely.  Sadder still, there is no known treatment for the conditions.  There are many therapies that reportedly treat the symptoms but nothing substantial has been studied.  My advice would be to treat the ‘active’ phases as you would another sporting injury – rest, ice, compression, elevation, re-hydration and proper rehabilitation.

Thankfully, nearly all of the juniors I spoke to reported ‘minor’ injuries of tendons, muscles and, occasionally, joints.  These injuries are directly related to not warming up correctly, bad posture, poor diet/dehydration, bad playing habits (i.e. poor technique) or ill fitting/poor use of equipment.  In the few that have seemingly good badminton career prospects there was evidence that they were overtraining which is number one in the ‘coaching manual’ sin list!

On this rather dull note I will sign off for another issue, leaving me wondering still what the delicious Clare Webster might be up to!!!!

JH

‘A restful summer…’ – ‘Badminton Magazine’ May 2004 Issue

Season 2003/2004 draws to a close and all the fun of late night matches in tiny one-court village halls is replaced by a few hours of gardening a week and the occasional walk along Bridlington seafront.

Those of us lucky enough to be injury free at the end of the season might, at this very moment, be planning summer activities to fill the badminton void but the less fortunate, injured souls have got nothing to look forward to – unless you count the excitement of Euro 2004 that is!  But don’t waste time taking pity on yourselves because you’ve got to feel sorry for those footballers, haven’t you?  They must play at least 6 games a month, plus training, then there are the endless photo shoots and marketing opportunities – not to mention the regular trips to ‘Ferrari World’ for the latest pininfarina number.  My heart bleeds; just as ‘Posh’ thinks she’ll have ‘Becks’ home for the summer, he jets off to Portugal for a few more games and a sledging from the press (I think that they should replace their names on the back of their shirts with the phrase ‘Red top cannon fodder’!)  So, when Gary Linekar smiles that smile and introduces the first match for your enjoyment, try not to moan at the players as they stand there miming to a national anthem they don’t know all the words to!  Feel sorry for them – they might be feeling a little tired.

In all honesty, squeezing a tournament into a few summer months is probably a bit taxing, physically.  Soon, as more and more sports turn professional, the perennial argument regarding the timetabling of extra-curricular competitions will reach such a point that something will have to be done.  Even at the bottom of the competition ladder (for example, the South East Worthing Regional Mixed Division VII) we tend to feel the physical strain put upon us by poorly timetabled league matches, tournaments and club nights.  How many times have you muttered obscenities towards the ‘Match Secretary’ for booking three matches between Christmas and New Year and leaving the next three weeks completely match free?

So, what if we are a bit tired?  What are the risks of a bit of ‘badminton burnout’?  The simple answer is the reason why ‘physical medicine’ was recently tipped as the boom industry for the new millennium – INJURY.  The very word that makes us mortal sports people shudder with fear whilst, simultaneously, causing the NHS budget for the next twelve months to flinch in preparation for the burden that it will be have to undertake.

Quite literally, take your pick – chose any joint in the body, any tendon, even a dreaded ligament and if it is prone to injury or has previously demonstrated weakness, the chances of a serious problem developing are extremely high.  The body needs time to heal, and a gruelling, uneven timetable of league matches juxtaposed with the odd club night and a trip to the gym could just be enough to transform a nagging, intermittently painful knee cartilage into a full-blown tear the renders it’s owner unable to walk down stairs or bend the knee any more than 75 degrees.

So, lets have a new season resolution – get the powers that be to schedule matches evenly and try and aim for, at least, one clear day between hard exercise.

JH