Ageing process is responsible for white hair, wrinkles, loss of muscles and flexibility. We can witness this change in front of a mirror on a daily base. We may not like it but we understand it is part of being human. It is not right or wrong. It is simply what it is, part of life.
As we age outside, in the same way, we age inside. Our body changes inside and the only difference is that we can’t witness this process on a daily base. We can’t prepare for it.
As sooner or later happens to all of us you may develop some joint or spinal pain. If you undertake an x-ray or an MRI is very likely something is going to show up. Disc bulges, disc protrusions, narrowing of the spinal canal, signs of osteoarthritis, hips labral tears, rotator cuff tears and so on. If you had imaging in the past you may be familiar with some of those terms. The natural tendency is to link up those findings with pain.
Although, research tells us that those findings are normal ageing process of the body. As normal as wrinkles, white hairs etc. In the vast majority of the cases are not linked with pain.
I understand it may be difficult to buy into this so I will show us some datas. A study made on people who never experienced hip pain showed that 73% of them had some abnormalities detected through the MRI. Another research paper highlighted that degenerative spine findings are extremely common among asymptomatic people. 80% of people in their fifties have disk degeneration, four people out of ten in their thirties have disc bulges. Facet degeneration is present in 20% of people in their forties. People that are not in pain. This is normal!
This is to say there is not correlation between tissue damage and pain and that those findings are normal ageing process of the body that we can detect in every human being.
So what is causing pain? In the vast majority of people with joint pain is the extremely difficult to find a unique cause driving the symptoms. Pain is a very complex experience due to many factors we do not have the time to go through in this post.
If you are struggling with pain and you have done some imaging that shows something scary and worrying just be aware that the likelihood that is the cause of your pain is very low and that we can work together to find helpful strategies to live a full life.
Thanks for reading,
1) Babińska, A., Wawrzynek, W., Czech, E., Skupiński, J., Szczygieł, J., & Łabuz-Roszak, B. (2019). No association between MRI changes in the lumbar spine and intensity of pain, quality of life, depressive and anxiety symptoms in patients with low back pain. Neurologia i neurochirurgia polska, 53(1), 74-82.
2) Bacon, K., LaValley, M. P., Jafarzadeh, S. R., & Felson, D. (2020). Does cartilage loss cause pain in osteoarthritis and if so, how much?. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
3) Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A. & Wald, J. T. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816.
4) Register, B., Pennock, A. T., Ho, C. P., Strickland, C. D., Lawand, A., & Philippon, M. J. (2012). Prevalence of abnormal hip findings in asymptomatic participants: a prospective, blinded study. The American journal of sports medicine, 40(12), 2720-2724.