Diagnostic Imaging: Is “degeneration” or “arthritis” relevant to pain or well-being?

Here are some interesting facts:

The Neck:

An MRI study of healthy adults and seniors found that 98% of all the men and women with no neck pain had evidence of “degenerative changes”in their neck. (1)

The Mid Back:

An MRI study of healthy adults with no history of upper or low back pain found that 47% had disc degeneration,53% had disc bulges and 58% had disc tears in their thoracic spine. (2)

The Low Back:

Lumbar disc degeneration is present in 40% of individuals under the age of 30 and present in over 90% of those between the ages of 50-55.(3)

The Knee:

Up to 85% of adults with no actual knee pain have x-rays that show knee arthritis. (4)

The Foot:

32% of people with no foot or heel pain have a heel spur visible on x-ray.(5)

The Shoulder:

MRI studies of adults who have no shoulder pain show that 20% have partial rotator cuff tears and 15% have full thickness tears. In addition, in those over the age of 60, 50% (half) of those who had no shoulder pain or injury had rotator cuff tears on their MRI that they did not even know about.(6)

Stop worrying about what your MRI and X-RAY may be showing, because scary findings do not have to equal pain and disability.

Start putting more effort into proactive management like physiotherapy and a healthy lifestyle to help deal with the acute pain of degenerative conditions so that it does not end up becoming a chronic condition.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help you to be proactive.  Call and make an appointment today.



1. Okada E, et al Disc degeneration of cervical spine on MRI in patients with lumbar disc herniation: comparison study with asymptomatic volunteers. Eur Spine J. 2011 Apr;20(4):585-91

 2. Matsumoto M, et al Age-related changes of thoracic and cervical intervertebral discs in asymptomatic subjects. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Jun 15;35(14):1359-64.

3. Cheung KM, et al Prevalence and pattern of lumbar magnetic resonance imaging changes in a population study of one thousand forty-three individuals. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Apr 20;34(9):934-40.

 4. Bedson J, Croft PR. The discordance between clinical and radiographic knee osteoarthritis: a systematic search and summary of the literature. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2008 Sep 2;9:116.

 5. Johal KS, Milner SA. Plantar fasciitis and the calcaneal spur: Fact or fiction? Foot Ankle Surg. 2012 Mar;18(1):39-41.

6. Sher JS, et al Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of asymptomatic shoulders. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1995 Jan;77(1):10-5.