Do You Really Need an MRI?

Many clients come to me with chronic back pain (or neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain) having already scheduled a visit to their orthopedist for X-rays and MRIs. Most of them haven’t had a recent accident or injury – it’s just that they don’t know what else to do when it comes to their muscle pain. Many return after having had X-rays and MRIs; predictably, these diagnostics didn’t show anything and yielded no answers.

Many articles have been published about the burgeoning costs of unnecessary diagnostics. One of the most disturbing statements in Overtreatment in Action was:

“According to Bloomberg, companies like WellPoint and Magellan Health Services believe that expensive and unnecessary CT and MRI scans cost them roughly $30 billion a year.”

Another article questioned whether or not the availability of MRI machines can be tied to a rise in unnecessary back surgeries. It says:

There is no clear data to prove that lower back surgery is the best option for patients’ well being, particularly compounded with the risks of hospital-acquired infections or surgical complications.

MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans have their place in medical science to aid in diagnosing a potential disease or pathology, or a bone fracture/break. Yet most cases of tight, painful muscles have little to do with a genuine medical condition and everything to do with the way in which we physically adapt to the stresses of our lives. Doctors typically look for structural problems when the root cause of most muscle pain is functional in nature. Unfortunately current medical school education does not focus on functional movement nor the sensory motor system that moves our muscles and bones. What these expensive, specialized machines are incapable of diagnosing is exactly that: muscle function and muscle movement.

Sensory Motor Amnesia cannot be measured by an MRI or an X-ray, nor can it be fixed with surgery or drugs.

Most chronic muscle pain develops over time due to one’s habitual, muscular responses and adaptations to stress: sudden accidents, injuries, emotional stress, and repetitive tasks. It is something one is doing or a way one is thinking and reacting to life that causes a gradual accumulation of muscle tension to the point of chronic muscle pain.

When faced with a certain stress, the brain – the command center of the muscles – teaches muscles to stay tight and involuntarily contracted. This state of habitually tight, “frozen” muscles is called Sensory Motor Amnesia(SMA). SMA contributes to back, neck and shoulder, hip, knee and foot pain, and inefficient movement; tight muscles cannot contract and relax properly. Trying to move well with SMA is like trying to drive a car with the emergency brake on.

No wonder so many back surgeries don’t “cure” back pain — in some cases it even exacerbates it. Most back pain is functional, not structural. Change the way you sense and move your body and your pain will go away.

How do you know if you have Sensory Motor Amnesia?

Do you feel as if your movement is not as efficient as it used to be? Think about your lifestyle and history of accidents or repetitive tasks.

  • Do you spend a lot of time sitting? If so, how do you sit?
  • Have you ever taken a fall or had an accident (car, sports, lifting)  in which you had to compensate until you felt better?
  • Do you drive a lot? If yes, how do you sit in your car?
  • Do you arch your back excessively? Slump forward?
  • Do you stand with equal weight on both feet?
  • Do you hold children on your hip? If yes, for how many years have you done that?

Try this: move slowly and gently – bend, twist, shift from one leg to the other. Notice what you can and cannot do. Maybe you can move easily tothe left, but not to the right. This will begin to shed light on your problem.

If you think your problem is due to what you do all day, how you move and how you have learned to compensate with your muscles, your healthcare dollars are better spent  going to a class, workshop, or private clinical session of Hanna Somatics than seeking technological answers for a problem that can only be “fixed” by you.


9 thoughts on “Do You Really Need an MRI?

  1. Hey Martha, very nice article, clear and to the point. I often say that if insurance companies would pay us just the cost of one mri per client we could help save a lot of time and money.

    • Hi Jon,
      Thanks for commenting. It’s so true; I tell clients that by learning to regain their physical awareness and independence they’ll be saving thousands of dollars over their lifetime. No more running to myriad practitioners every time something hurts. They’ll have the tools to “fix” themselves. Better yet – if doctors referred everyone with muscle pain (who didn’t suffer an obvious accident that needed imaging diagnostics) for Somatic Education and gave them a prescription for, say, 6 sessions, insurance companies could save several thousands of dollars on each patient….and more for patients who don’t need repeat visits to the MD for a condition the MD can’t help! Keep doing good work and together we can hopefully make Somatics a household word.

  2. Martha – you might be interested in the book I’m reading, called Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, by H. Gilbert Welch.


    • I will make sure to get it! It sounds like a timely book, especially considering the sky rocketing costs of medical care. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  3. its a sort of reply , ive been told by gp that the pain in my hip is muscle pain . i cannot walk properly at the moment kind of limping on left side . putting weight on it is makingit worse told to just take pain killers any suggestions would be helpful.turning over in the bed also giving pain and any small amount of carrying.

    • Hi Rose,
      I have two suggestions: if your GP has said that you have tight muscles, Somatics will definitely teach you to get to the source of the problem – the pattern of contraction that you’re stuck in and need to come out of in order to relax those muscles.
      First suggestion is to make an appointment with me to do a one on one Skype session (info here: so that I can begin to teach you how to get out of pain.
      Second suggestion is to buy my instructional DVD and begin to learn to do it yourself:
      It sounds to me as if you have a “trauma reflex” pattern going on in your body. I’ve written quite a lot about that on my blog, so research a little and see what you think. The waist muscles of your left side are tighter than the right side, making you walk as if you were a car with one flat tyre! Once you relax the waist, back and leg muscles, you’ll feel much better.
      Let me know if you’d like to Skype (online video session) with me so I can have a look at you, and your movement and we can begin to get you out of pain!

  4. Pingback: Eliminating Sensory Motor Amnesia Can Bring Tiger Woods Back To Competition | Pain Relief Through Movement

  5. Pingback: “Muscle Knots” Are Muscle Tension, Which Is Sensory Motor Amnesia | Pain Relief Through Movement

  6. Pingback: Back Pain: It’s Time To Ask Why – Pain Relief Through Movement

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