McKenzie Method, back pain in flexed posture picture Why Does My MRI Report Degenerative Changes?

In the United States roughly 30 million MRI scans are performed each year (Envrad, 2022). MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. MRI uses non-invasive imaging technology to produce a three-dimensional, detailed images of the body.  In fact, MRIs do not expose the body to any radiation! MRIs are a great imaging tool, but are very sensitive. To elaborate, MRIs are able to pick up subtle changes that would not show up during other imaging.

Specifically, MRIs are extremely sensitive to degenerative changes. Degenerative changes are commonly found in spine imaging. However, degenerative changes do not always correlate to back pain. Degenerative changes are found in many pain-free individuals, not just those with back pain.

What Are Degenerative Changes?

The body is susceptible to general wear and tear due to age. Degenerative disc disease (DDD) describes a group of symptoms that results from the gradual wear and tear on the spine.

Some of these symptoms are:

  • Pain that comes and goes for months at a time
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pain that worsens with sitting, bending or lifting

There are vertebral discs that sit between vertebrae of the spine. In health, young individuals the disc are rubbery and allow for bending. However, the discs wear down as a normal process of aging. Aged discs have less water, causing them to be less flexible. In addition, aged discs are more narrow and cannot distribute pressure as well.  According to the Arthritis Foundation, most people after 40 have some disc degeneration.

Are Degenerative Changes Bad?

Degenerative changes are a normal! Degenerative changes are found in many asymptomatic individuals, increasing with age. A study by Brinjikji et al. (2015) studied degenerative disc prevalence among individuals. The study reports degenerative changes in 37% of asymptomatic individuals aged 20 and 96% asymptomatic individuals 80 years of age.

If your MRI report finds degenerative changes, do not panic! Imaging findings must be interpreted along with individual patient presentation.

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In fact, New Jersey has direct access that can get you in for evaluation without you having to see a doctor. In short, calling us directly can end up saving you both time and money!

Call us to schedule an evaluation at one of BeneFIT’s locations, Bridgewater (908.203.5200) or Chester (908.879.5700)  with one of our highly trained Doctors of Physical Therapy or check us out on Instagram!


Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A., . . . Jarvik, J. G. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR. American journal of neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816. href=”″>doi:10.3174/ajnr.A4173,9%25%20between%202018%20and%202028.,changes%20examined%20in%20our%20study.&text=However%2C%20even%20among%20patients%20with,presence%20of%20low%20back%20pain.

“Degenerative Disc Disease.” Degenerative Disc Disease | Arthritis Foundation,