Boyd W. Haynes III, MD
As an Orthopaedic Physician, I am asked a lot of questions everyday by patients. A lot! That is a good thing, because I have the answers they need to help them make the best decision about their treatment. Here is a question that I am asked every day, multiple times a day, and here is my answer:
Q: Do I need an MRI?
A: MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging is one of the best diagnostic tools available to me as an orthopaedic specialist. MRI can illuminate what x-rays cannot show: soft tissue, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments, spinal discs; abnormal growths, such as cysts and tumors, etc. MRI also images bone, cartilage and other structures.
However, MRI is an expensive test and we don’t usually order them immediately, as insurers will not cover the cost until we have exhausted other methods of diagnosis AND the patient has not responded to conservative treatment. There are exceptions to that, of course. But for the vast majority of my patients, we will at first use less expensive, time-tested methods of diagnosing patients, including, but not limited to:
- Physical examination
- A comprehensive patient history
- Physical movement tests
Conservative treatments can also be diagnostic in nature, so we will also try using medications, physical therapy, icing, braces, exercise, etc., to see if we can get the patient’s symptoms to resolve. If a patient does not get better with these treatments in a matter of weeks, we have sufficient evidence of a more serious issue to present to the insurance company to warrant the coverage of an MRI.