Become Pain Free Now

A Guide to Knowing When an MRI Is Necessary Before Physical Therapy

can a physical therapist request an MRI

If you’ve injured yourself, you want to heal as quickly as possible. Does that mean you should have an MRI before scheduling physical therapy to help pinpoint exactly what the problem is?

Not necessarily.

In fact, you are unlikely to need a preliminary MRI to get the most out of physical therapy.

This guide will explain some reasons why physical therapy should come first and, alternatively, a few situations when it is critical to start with an MRI.

Table of Contents

Should You Have an MRI Before Physical Therapy?

An MRI can be expensive and time-consuming, so you want to make sure you really need one before you get it.

When do patients benefit most from having an MRI before beginning physical therapy?

One example would be if your doctor thinks you may need surgical intervention. In this case, an MRI would be necessary before moving forward.

But an MRI is not usually required before PT begins. Let’s explore the reasoning behind that.

why do you have to do physical therapy before mri

3 Reasons Why You Should Consider Physical Therapy Before Having an MRI

Some people are quick to want every possible medical test if something is wrong with them, but the chances that you need an MRI before beginning physical therapy are low.

Since physical therapists are trained to diagnose your condition and create a plan of action to correct it, they should be able to tell if you would need an MRI before treatment starts. Studies have shown that PTs are typically conservative in their use of MRI.

Here are some good reasons to start with physical therapy.

#1: Physical Therapy May Cost You Less Long Term

An MRI costs thousands of dollars without insurance. If you do have health insurance, the portion of the test that you are expected to pay could still be prohibitively expensive, depending on your plan.

Many healthcare plans cover physical therapy, but even if you don’t have insurance, the cost of a series of PT sessions will be far less than that of an MRI.

And at In Motion O.C., we work with our clients to provide discount plans as needed.

You should also consider the fact that even if you have an MRI first, you will still need physical therapy — so then you would have to pay for both. In most cases, an MRI will not change the course of treatment anyway.

#2: Many Insurance Companies Require Physical Therapy Before Diagnostic Imaging

It’s likely that you have insurance requiring physical therapy before an MRI. This just makes sense.

Healthcare companies are all about cutting costs, and they won’t want to pay for expensive tests that may not have been necessary in the first place.

If you start PT and it becomes apparent that diagnostic imaging may be necessary, you have done your part to fulfill the insurance company’s obligations first.

#3: Physical Therapy Treats Your Ailment — MRI Results Do Not

An MRI of a healthy patient with no symptoms will still often show abnormalities, which may create stigma or concern that something is wrong with the person.

And even if an MRI does show evidence of a problem in an area of concern, it does nothing to treat the actual condition. It’s just a diagnosis.

To help with your ailment, you will most likely need a course of remedial treatment prescribed by a licensed physical therapist. Usually physical therapists do not need to see the results of an MRI to help with this.

Physical therapists are highly trained to:

  • Assess your body and movement 
  • Diagnosis the problem 
  • Determine the proper treatment.

should you have an mri before physical therapy

Are MRIs Important for Physical Therapy Treatment?

While there are some instances when imaging can improve physical therapy, in most cases it is not a necessary tool for a complete PT program.

3 Situations When You Should Have an MRI Before or During Physical Therapy

To fully educate you and give you all the options, let’s look at some cases where you might need an MRI before beginning physical therapy or after you start.

#1: Long Lasting Pain After Physical Therapy Treatment

If you have started a physical therapy regimen and are just not finding the relief you want or — even worse — your condition starts to deteriorate, you should discuss your options with your physical therapist and doctor.

They will likely order a test such as an…

  • X-ray
  • MRI; or
  • CT scan

…to help determine if something is preventing your body from responding positively to physical therapy.

#2: You’ve Experienced a Traumatic Injury or Accident

If you have had…

  • A traumatic incident
  • A fall; or
  • A long history of pain

…then you should seek medical advice regarding an MRI.

This can help medical professionals gauge if you’ve had any serious injuries and determine the best route to take.

#3: To Determine the Progression of Serious Diseases

An MRI can be used to detect myriad conditions including:

  • Brain tumors
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Developmental anomalies
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Infection; and
  • Causes of headaches.

The MRI may be used in conjunction with physical therapy treatment to overcome hurdles that come from these specific disorders and injuries. In these cases, it’s helpful to have a definitive diagnosis to point the physical therapist in the right direction.

can a physical therapist request an MRI

Can a Physical Therapist Order an MRI?

In some practice settings, physical therapists are able to order diagnostic imaging tests such as MRIs — if they feel they are necessary to better treat their patients.

The American Physical Therapy Association believes that it would be beneficial for all PTs to have imaging privileges in their practices and are working toward that goal.

They say that “In the United States, physical therapists are becoming more autonomous and can practice some degree of direct access in 48 states and Washington, DC.”

In Motion O.C. Physical Therapists Can Help You Overcome Painful Ailments

At In Motion O.C. we can help with ailments such as:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoporosis; and
  • Headaches.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Best of all, in most cases, we can do it all while helping you avoid the inconvenience and cost associated with having an MRI.

We’ll Help You Find the Right Treatment for Your Unique Needs

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with our top-rated clinic.

Our licensed physical therapists will complete a full assessment and create a plan specifically tailored to your body’s needs.

Our mission is to bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to others. Let’s work together to get rid of your pain.

In Motion O.C.