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How MRI’s lead neck pain sufferers to unnecessary procedures

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Have you ever had neck pain and wondered…

Do I need an MRI to figure it out?

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI when they are experiencing neck pain or shoulder pain.

It’s pretty standard protocol when you go see a doctor – but is it necessary?

In most cases… NO.

About 70-80% of neck problems, even shoulder tendinitis, are considered mechanical in nature and quite normal.

That means there isn’t anything “serious” causing your pain.


What are the serious causes of neck and shoulder pain? 

Serious causes of neck or shoulder pain include things like a tumor, infection, fracture, or severely compromised nerve. 

Your symptoms will be pretty specific and obvious to a neck pain specialist – and will typically require advanced medical intervention. An MRI can be useful in these cases to get more clarity before medical intervention begins.

But when your neck pain is mechanical in nature, an MRI is more often than not misleading – and may lead to unnecessary procedures or surgery.

If you’ve had neck or shoulder pain for years, it comes and goes, or you’ve had relief in the past from things like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment… You most likely have mechanical neck pain.

The root cause of mechanical neck/shoulder pain can NOT be diagnosed by an MRI.

And if your neck or shoulder pain falls into the mechanical category, and you get an MRI anyway, you can end up with treatments you don’t need.

Over the years, I’ve seen SO many people with mechanical neck or shoulder pain get major medical procedures that were irreversible and made them worse.


Here’s the problem….

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. Everything from bulging discs, arthritis, stenosis, degenerative discs, and fraying tendons which are all considered normal as we age, but are usually NOT the root cause of your back and shoulder pain.

What typically happens is the MRI finds them, and your neck and shoulder pain gets blamed on them.

But what we know from research is that all those common MRI findings I just mentioned rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your neck and shoulder pain.

Research has shown consistently that you can have two people with identical MRI’s showing something like bulging discs and arthritis, but only one of them will be suffering in pain.

That’s how we know the root cause of your neck or shoulder pain is coming from something else!

If you notice that certain positions or movements relieve your neck or shoulder pain, or you feel better after exercise or if you feel better in one position over another, your neck/shoulder pain is likely mechanical in nature, and you don’t need an MRI to diagnose you.

Mechanical neck or shoulder pain responds to specialized movement therapy and a selectively progressed exercise protocol.

Mechanical neck or shoulder pain does NOT respond well in the long run to injections, procedures, or surgery, which is what you can end up with if you get an MRI and don’t really need one.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years get injections or surgery for neck and shoulder problems only to find that it didn’t help their problem – or it came back again with a vengeance. And once you have surgery, mechanical neck and shoulder pain can actually become more difficult to fix because your tissues and ligaments are now compromised from surgical scarring, no matter how minimally invasive they say your surgery will be.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you.

It’s why we offer you opportunities to talk to our specialists about your neck and shoulder problems.  


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Are you struggling with neck or shoulder pain? 

If you are not sure how to tell if your neck or shoulder problem is mechanical or if you’ve got something more serious going on, or why MRI’s are so confusing and may lead you to getting unnecessary procedures and surgery… Click here to request a Discovery Visit with one of our Miami Certified Hand Therapists. Most importantly, we will take the time to help you clear up any confusion and what is possible for you. 

Written by Hoang Tran


About the author – Hoang Tran

Hoang Tran is a certified hand therapist and the owner of Hands-on Therapy Services and author of the book “The Hands-On Approach”. She loves helping people with hand, neck and shoulder problems, because she knows how bad and debilitating they can get if not addressed and treated properly (once and for all!).

The aim of her occupational therapy practice in the Miami area is to bring patients back to full functionality, without pills, injections or surgery.

If you are struggling with hand, elbow, or neck and shoulder pain schedule an appointment, OR request a Free  Discovery Visit!

In these difficult times, we are here to help. Telehealth and online sessions are available!

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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