With Halloween right around the corner, we thought it would be a great time to touch on some of those scary medical terms that patients hear everyday. If you’ve ever read the results of an X-ray, MRI or Ultrasound you most certainly have heard of some of these terms covered below.
X-rays are the easiest way to take a look at the bones and joints in our body. Osteoarthritis (OA) describes the often normal thinning of the cartilage (smooth gliding surface) on the bones of our joints. Hip and knee osteoarthritis is the most common lifestyle process in those aged 65 years and older. Although you hear a lot about arthritis pain, it does not mean it is always a painful or debilitating condition. In fact, up to 85% of adults with signs of knee OA on x-rays have NO knee pain. This means that seeing OA changes on x-ray doesn't guarantee that you will have pain or dysfunction . Take a look at our past blog on how exercise is the best form of treatment for mild to moderate hip and knee OA but also safe for severe end stage OA, as well.
Ultrasound or MRIs are used to look at “soft tissue” such as tendons or ligaments. A tendon attaches muscle to bone and ligaments provide stability around our joints. The rotator cuff refers to tendons connecting important muscles of the shoulder to the upper arm. Tears of the rotator cuff are a common finding when imaging shoulders with ultrasound or MRI. So common in fact, it has been shown that up to half of those aged 60 and older showed rotator cuff tears on MRI without corresponding pain or disability. Rotator cuff tears are even common in high functioning athletes. A study of baseball pitchers revealed that over one third of all the pitchers had full or partial rotator cuff tears without having any reported pain or limitations.
Degenerative Disc Disease / Bulging Disc / Joint Space Narrowing
Any back disc injury has been made out to be a scary idea. However, degenerative disc disease (DDD) is not a disease at all, it actually refers to normal changes in the discs (pads that provide cushion between the bones) of our spines. It is the difference between PATHOLOGY and MORPHOLOGY. Pathology is a true disease process like cancer but Morphology describes normal change over our life time. DDD is most often found in our necks and low backs. Studies have shown DDD of the low back is present in over 30% of people aged 30 and younger and 90% in ages 50-55. In some cases, DDD can lead to disc bulges which sounds scary but up to 25% of healthy young adults (aged 20 to 22) have low back disc bulges with no back pain and nearly 50% have at least one degenerated disc on MRI. If DDD and bulging discs were the true cause of all back pain then we would all have back pain at 20 that would only get worse as we age!
This post isn’t meant to replace the medical advice of your doctor or medical professional. But rather to help inform people that these scary terms don’t automatically subject you to a life of pain and dysfunction. We as healthcare professionals are changing the way we use these words to try and educate our patients with fact-based knowledge that does not foster fear but encourages a focus on function and optimism. We are still not perfect at this yet, but being told you have the back of an 80 year old at 25 does not help anyone heal!!
Knowing that these findings are common in healthy young and old populations can help reduce the anxiety around what “degenerative disc disease”, “rotator cuff tear” or “osteoarthritis” may mean for your future. Remember, MRIs, X-rays and Ultrasound imaging are very good at ruling out major health concerns such as fractures, tumours and spinal cord injuries, but they are also very good at picking out normal changes in our body that we would never otherwise known were there. Use the results to know that there is likely nothing BIG and ScARy going on inside of your body. If you have had medical imaging and are concerned over the result, be sure to ask your medical professional what those changes mean for you.
VOMIT poster LSP, Shoulder and kip/knee