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A Closer Look at MRIs & Scans in Sports Medicine

Posted By Scott Greenberg, MD, Thursday, November 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014

In an article appearing in the NY Times, October 29, 2011. Specialists and medical researchers concluded that "(MRIs) are easily misinterpreted and can result in misdiagnoses leading to unnecessary or even harmful treatments.”

Dr. James Andrews, best known for his surgical work on professional athletes, did his own experiment. He scanned the shoulders of 31 perfectly healthy professional baseball pitchers. Quoting the article, "The pitchers were not injured and had no pain. But the MRIs found abnormal shoulder cartilage in 90 percent of them and abnormal rotator cuff tendons in 87 percent.”

"If you want an excuse to operate on a pitcher’s throwing shoulder, just get an M.R.I.,” Dr. Andrews says.”

At the Magaziner Center for Wellness, we rarely if ever rely on an MRI. In our opinion these tests are a waste of money. A patient can come in with a big file of films and scans that cost them a lot of money out-of-pocket, and typically, there will be no useful information that will help us get the athlete back on the field. A skilled physician can make a more accurate determination of an athlete’s injury and treatment plan with a careful physical examination and history.

Unfortunately, there is a certain appeal to the patient to get an MRI, especially the athlete who thinks it is part of the normal process of treatment. It is sometimes difficult to get the patient to understand that when they get an MRI there will be a recommendation for a surgery that many times is unnecessary.

Before you consider the surgical option based on an MRI, before you take your star athlete off the field for a year of surgical recovery, a consultation with a doctor trained in non-surgical treatment of ligament and tendon injuries, such as Prolotherapy and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) Therapy, may be an option to explore.

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