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New MRI imaging promises more accurate diagnosis of back pain

research article published in JOR Spine investigating a new MRI scanning technique may hold promise for more accurately diagnosing and treating back pain.

The study compared scans performed on rabbits using the new technique, which were then compared to the actual disc in a post-mortem examination. The actual disc matched the scan 97 per cent of the time, which is up from 70 per cent with current MRI scanning techniques.

Lead author of the study Dr Kyle Sheldrick, from UNSW Medicine’s St. George & Sutherland Clinical School, said the results are promising and may enable doctors and radiologists to more accurately pinpoint the cause and location of a patient’s back pain.

“Back pain affects about one in six Australians, but in 95% of cases, doctors (including me and my co-authors) can’t find any cause.

“This not only makes it very hard to treat individual patients but also makes it very hard to find new cures for back pain.

“Experts think degeneration of the spinal discs is a cause of back pain, but current tests for disc degeneration don’t work very well.

“Patients with discs that look healthy on MRI often have severe back pain, and patients with discs that look very degenerate on T2 MRI often have no back pain, so better technology is needed,” Dr Sheldrick said.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) refutes that the new MRI technique will support better diagnosis and treatment due to the complex nature of back pain.

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