Q&A w/ a Therapist: Do I need surgery if I have arthritis?

Question: My x-ray or MRI shows arthritis; do I need surgery?

Answer: In short, no. Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis is defined as degenerative changes to the joint surface, or cartilage, leading to irritation of the underlying bone. This is a normal and typical part of aging.  In fact, a human being starts to develop arthritis in their spine in their early 20’s. So, we all may have this to some extent. Meanwhile, studies will show that there is low correlation between findings on diagnostic imaging and pain levels. In fact, up to 70% of people with findings on their x-ray or MRI do not have associated pain (Bhattacharyya et al., 2003; Boden et al., 1990). Therefore, a finding of arthritis just confirms that you are over the age of 20. If you have pain in an area and have diagnostic imaging performed (X-ray, MRI, CT scan) your doctor is using this information to the best of his or her ability to determine a probable cause of pain. However, just like anything else, x-rays and MRI’s have limitations, they are only one snapshot in time. Contributing factors that will not be shown on the image include nerve sensitivities, joint and muscle tension/tightness, abnormal posture, and abnormal movement patterns. That is where a thorough exam from your physical therapist can help (and keep you away from having to get surgery). A finding of arthritis alone does not indicate that this is the definite cause of your pain, and certainly does not necessarily mean that you have to live in pain or need surgery.

If you have questions or concerns, call and schedule a free screening with Choice Therapy today at 218.440.1548! Your life. Your health. Your Choice!

– Jake Kremer (PT, DPT, FIT, CSCS – Bemidji, MN Clinic)