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Why do I need to do Physical Therapy before and MRI?

Updated: Feb 4

Hello HealthSpan Fam! Let's talk about a question we hear a lot. "Shouldn't I get an MRI before starting Physical Therapy?

In the quest for swift answers and swift recoveries to pain or injuries, the desire to want an MRI is a real one. I get it. But, it might not always align with the most informed decision-making. Let's unravel the reasons why initiating your healing journey with physical therapy is not just practical but also a strategic move.

Real Cost Savings:

To begin, let's look at the numbers. Recent studies indicate that choosing physical therapy first for low back pain can result in significant cost savings compared to an immediate MRI. Studies have found that the overall costs for an episode of care of low back pain is reduced by 50% if Physical Therapy is the first intervention!

Old Approach vs New Approach for Low back pain

This financial aspect underscores the strategic wisdom of embracing physical therapy initially, saving not only immediate expenses but also potential additional costs tied to unnecessary medical procedures.

Precision in Diagnosis Without Immediate Imaging:

Another significant advantagess of choosing physical therapy first is the ability of a skilled physical therapist to accurately diagnose your issues without the immediate need for an MRI. Through a detailed examination, hands-on assessments, and a keen understanding of your medical history, a physical therapist can pinpoint the root cause of your pain or discomfort.

Importantly, physical therapists specialize in orthopedics, showcasing a level of expertise that is second only to orthopedic surgeons. This expertise allows them to identify musculoskeletal issues, weaknesses, and imbalances with precision, often eliminating the need for immediate imaging.

In fact, research has even shown that a Board Certified Orthopedic Physical Therapist like Dr. Jordan Schmidt PT, DPT, OCS ranks second to only orthopedic surgeons in musculoskeletal knowledge!

Health professional scoring on musculoskeletal exam

Personalized Approach:

Your body, your pain—it's a unique experience. A skilled physical therapist, equipped with extensive knowledge in orthopedics, conducts a comprehensive examination, tailoring a treatment plan specific to your needs. This personalized approach not only sidesteps the immediate need for imaging but also provides targeted care that aligns with your individual circumstances.

Swift Recovery Through Early Intervention:

Beyond the financial and diagnostic advantages, opting for physical therapy first can lead to a quicker recovery. Early intervention with physical therapy allows you to address the root causes of your pain or injury promptly. Through targeted exercises, manual therapy, and a personalized rehabilitation plan, you can actively engage in your recovery from the get-go.

Studies have shown that starting physical therapy early in the course of musculoskeletal issues can result in faster pain relief, improved function, and a shorter overall recovery time. By choosing physical therapy first, you empower yourself to take proactive steps toward healing and reclaiming your well-being sooner.

Navigating Insurance Requirements:

The financial aspect of healthcare often intertwines with insurance considerations. Physical therapy, backed by the extensive orthopedic knowledge of therapists, is generally recognized as a cost-effective and evidence-based approach, often covered by insurance plans. On the other hand, insurance providers may require pre-authorization for an MRI, subjecting you to additional administrative hurdles.

By choosing physical therapy first, you may streamline the insurance process, ensuring timely access to the care you need without navigating extensive pre-authorization requirements. This not only expedites your recovery process but also reduces the likelihood of delays due to bureaucratic procedures.

The Psychological Impact of Incidental Findings:

Imagine opting for an MRI seeking answers for your back pain, only to have the results unveil unrelated issues. The psychological toll of incidental findings can be significant, with studies suggesting that up to 40% of MRI scans reveal unexpected results, triggering anxiety and stress.

This is where physical therapy shines. By starting with a physical therapist, you embark on a journey of personalized care, reducing the likelihood of unnecessary psychological burdens tied to unexpected MRI revelations.


In conclusion, opting for physical therapy before an MRI is not just a matter of cost savings, precise diagnosis, expert care, and accelerated recovery—it's also a strategic move toward navigating insurance considerations and ensuring a holistic, informed healthcare journey. Recognizing the psychological impact of incidental findings adds another layer to the argument, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing your mental well-being.

Consider, too, the potential insurance advantages of starting with physical therapy. By making an informed choice, you're not just investing in your health but navigating the healthcare landscape with wisdom. So, next time you face pain or discomfort, ponder the importance of taking that informed first step—consult with a knowledgeable physical therapist—and pave the way for a healthier, more balanced you, sooner.

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