I recently treated a patient with low back pain and thigh pain. She said her symptoms came on gradually, but then they really started limiting her ability to exercise as much as she would like. She went to her doctor, and an x-ray and MRI were taken. She was then referred to a specialist and finally she was sent to physical therapy for treatment.
My patient mentioned that her doctor looked at her MRI and stated that she expected my patient to be in more pain than she was reporting. She said that the amount of disc degeneration and arthritis looked severe, and so my patient's symptoms should also be severe.
Now, an MRI is a common diagnostic tool used to see the structures of the body. It is very useful to rule in a specific problem and to find a sinister lesion that may require invasive treatments like surgery to fix.
An MRI never can tell your doctor what your are feeling.
There is no way that an MRI picture can tell anyone what you are feeling. I often tell my patients that an MRI is like a picture of a telephone--you can't tell if it is ringing or not. The same is true for an x-ray or MRI picture. One simply cannot look at an MRI or x-ray picture and tell if the patient is in pain or not. I have seen many MRIs that look really bad and the patient has little or no pain. And I have seen MRIs that look great and the patient is compaining of terrible pain. An MRI is just a static picture, and it can never tell any doctor, physical therapist, or other person what you are feeling.
Luckily my patient with back pain did not let her doctor's opinion of the severity of her MRI affect her. She knew that an MRI report can't tell anyone what level of pain she had. I asked my patient what she said to the doctor about her comment.
"Nothing." she said. "I just found a new doctor."