We've known for decades that spinal X-rays, MRIs and CT scans add very little information about back pain. They most often don't tell doctors whether the pain is coming from the spine or from disc, arthritic or bone disease (though they may reveal if the problem can be fixed with a chiropractic adjustment.)
Research also shows that, if back pain is present, radiologists tend to interpret x-ray results as confirming the presence of a host of horrific (and scary-sounding) problems. Yet remarkably, if those same radiologists are shown X-rays and MRIs from both healthy people and those with back pain, they can't tell one group from the other!
Nonetheless, doctors continue to scare people by telling them how horrible their X-rays look. And they continue to operate on people based on those x-rays — even though the X-ray results are often meaningless, with much of the back pain coming from muscular and ligament problems that are totally reversible without surgery.
The same folly applies to x-rays for arthritis. An exception? X-rays for rheumatoid arthritis may show the scope of, and severity of, the disease, and help guide how aggressive the needed treatment should be.
Now, a new study shows the same type of radiological "madness" for TMJ/jaw joint dysfunction — with doctors reaching conclusions that simply aren't true, and unnecessarily operating on people based on these. Another study shows that X-rays simply do not tell if the jaw joint is the source of jaw pain. And, here's a very practical way to protect yourself from unnecessary procedures based on mistaken conclusions.
In the study, CT scans of the jaw joint showed that bony/arthritic changes on CT scan were very poorly correlated with pain and other clinical signs and symptoms of TMJ. To put it more bluntly: the x-ray changes were mostly meaningless.
But that didn't stop doctors from showing many patients the x-rays … telling them they had jaw joint problems … and recommending surgery to relieve their symptoms.
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