Abnormalities are Normal
By Dean Moyer
Author of Rebuild Your Back
Has the doctor found something wrong with the shape of your spine? Do you have herniated discs, bone spurs or crooked vertebrae? Do your x-rays look like they belong to some Saturday morning cartoon character?
Well, you can relax because none of that really matters.
Sure your films may elicit peals of laughter from the radiology staff and your doctor may be using words even he can’t pronounce ... and who cares if you are getting job offers from circus freak shows ... that's no reason to panic.
After all... odds are you can still successfully rebuild your back.
What About My Diagnosis?
Well, it might interest you to know that - despite all of the sophisticated high-tech equipment at their disposal - doctors are only about 15% accurate in their diagnosis of what is really wrong with your back. Even after all the X-rays, MRIs, CT Scans - and even surgery - the doctor can only make an educated guess. Here's what some of them had to say:
"Experts agree that only in 10% to 15% of the cases can a definite cause for back pain be found. In the rest of the cases NO ONE KNOWS for sure. Chiropractors say misalignment is the problem; physical therapists speak of muscle spasm; surgeons talk herniated and degenerated discs. All may be occasionally correct but most of the time we simply don't know." 
"No one knows what causes most back pain, and in only 10% to 15% of the patients can a precise, symptom-related diagnosis be made. The rest of the time we simply do not know. But, reluctant to tell our patients "I don't know," many of us say some thing, and our reports are often contradictory." 
"In the 1960s I warned patients that x-rays were neither a good nor a positive means of diagnosing a low back problem. From the 1970s until today, I have continually warned folks that myelograms are notoriously inaccurate and extremely dangerous. And even today, I continue to state flatly that all the high-tech tests in the world—including the much-touted MRIs—are usually inaccurate, useless, a waste of money and much of the time they are counterproductive to diagnosing the correct source of low back pain." 
"If these tests were only a waste of money, I would probably squawk less. But unfortunately, these tests—which are indeed often wrong—frequently lead patients directly into radical medical and surgical therapies." 
Keeping a Cool Head
So you see, the doctor can’t really tell what’s wrong with your back. And he can't tell because of one little flaw in all that high-tech equipment. As hard as it is to believe, all that multi-million dollar machinery falls short in one critical area... It cannot detect pain.
Or more precisely, those machines cannot detect what is causing your pain. They can only detect what are called “abnormalities” in your spinal column. And these abnormalities may or may not be playing a part in your back pain.
"A great number of mistakes in caring for back pain relate to spinal imaging. When unsure of the cause of spinal pain, it may be tempting to blame a "spur" or "degenerated disc" seen on an x-ray film or to order another test. Such abnormalities are equally present in symptomatic and asymptomatic persons, however, and thus may be unrelated to the present symptoms." 
"Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies are expensive ($600 to $1,200 each), their yield of clinically useful information is poor, and they should not be used as screening tools in these instances. Furthermore, the vast majority of magnetic resonance scans are read as abnormal, with findings of bulging disc, desiccation at L5-SI, or facet arthrosis; unfortunately, the patient frequently is not told that abnormalities seen on spinal MRI may be unrelated to pain." 
That’s why I’m always quick to point out that you are not going to eliminate all of the abnormalities in your spine. There is nothing that can do that and - as it happens - it would actually be pointless to try.
The Goal is Not Perfection
The good news is that you don’t need to worry about these so-called abnormalities because they are actually normal. That’s right. There is no such thing as a perfect spine. Everyone has something that would show up as an abnormality on the various scans and x-rays whether they have a bad back or not.
Everybody has bulging discs. Everybody has crooked vertebrae. Everybody has bone growths. You name it. The bottom line is everyone is walking around with little imperfections… and you know what… research has shown that you can live a long, productive, pain-free, active life despite these little imperfections as long as the muscles and ligaments in your back are strong and flexible.
So you see our goal is not to build you a perfect spine because there is no such thing. Rather, our goal is to help you build a back that is not prone to injury and is not bothered by whatever “abnormalities” are normal for you. In other words, rebuild the support structure of your back and you will discover a strong flexible machine that won’t be affected by a few imperfections.
Now, About That Diagnosis...
The truth is you may never really know exactly what’s wrong with your back. And that’s okay because, like I said before, it doesn’t really matter. The rebuilding process will be the same regardless of what the doctors say you have. And besides, you can always follow-up on some of those job offers with the circus.
About the Author
Rebuild Your Back
Rebuild Your Neck
The Pain Relief Manual
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Last updated: July 10, 2006