It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is not uncommon for a patient to call our office to cancel an appointment because they went to their PCP, the PCP ordered an MRI and now they have to see a specialist. Sound reasonable?
There are multiple layers of “wrong” in this scenario. First and foremost is that, in most situations, we have already identified whether a disc bulge / sciatica was present based on talking to the patient and our exam finding. At this point, without any type of red flags, it is never, ever recommended to order an MRI this early in the treatment. Happens all the time, but apparently, those ordering the MRI are not reading the studies.
Not only is this a tremendous waste of resources, but it is well documented that this starts the patient on a MRI to epidural to surgery pathway, despite evidence that this is not the best pathway for the patient. It is also far too common for the PCP to steer the patient away from chiropractic care to a specialist–when chiropractic care is exactly what they need.
So what about the epidural’s effectiveness in the case of chronic (>12 weeks) radiculopathy (leg pain)? This particular study finds it worse than worthless—actually giving a small injection of saline was massively more beneficial than the steroid injection (Oswestry change after 52 wks– saline 14.3 points improvement, epidural 1.9 points worse). So basically, the epidural clearly made the patient worse as time went on.
The bottom line is that chiropractic care, for all musculoskeletal complaints, is the best place to go to get the best outcomes for your pain. Let the chiropractor decide if an MRI and epidural is appropriate.