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Do you have arthritis, disc bulges, and degenerative discs in your lower back?

Well, guess what…

You’re NORMAL!


With the progression of medical technology we are now able to see INSIDE of a person’s body via x-rays, MRI’s, ultrasounds, and CT scans. This ability is very valuable for identifying serious medical conditions such as tumors, fractures, or spinal cord injuries. BUT, once all serious pathologies have been ruled out by a MD, these technologies have a very poor prediction value for helping to explain the cause of people’s aches and pains. Truthfully, studies have shown that results of these tests/scans can be harmful to a patient from a psychological perspective. Especially when findings inform patients that they have arthritis, disc bulges, and/or degenerative discs. Numerous studies have shown that many people who are asymptomatic demonstrate these same ‘defects’ on their imaging.

Check out these studies and their findings:

  1. Cheung KM, et al. Prevalence and pattern of lumbar magnetic resonance imaging changes in a population study of one thousand forty-three individuals. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Apr 20;34(9):934-40.

Forty percent of individuals under 30 years of age had lumbar inter-vertebral disc degeneration (LDD), the prevalence of LDD increasing progressively to over 90% by 50 to 55 years of age.

  1. Takatolo J, et al. Prevalence of degenerative imaging findings in lumbar magnetic resonance imaging among young adults. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009 Jul 15.

This study showed that among healthy, pain-free young adults aged 20-22, 48% had at least one degenerated disc, and 25% had a bulging disc.


  1. Brinjikji W, et al. Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2014 Nov 27.

Thirty-three articles reporting imaging findings for 3110 asymptomatic individuals met our study inclusion criteria. The prevalence of disk degeneration in asymptomatic individuals increased from 37% of 20-year-old individuals to 96% of 80-year-old individuals. Disk bulge prevalence increased from 30% of those 20 years of age to 84% of those 80 years of age. Disk protrusion prevalence increased from 29% of those 20 years of age to 43% of those 80 years of age. The prevalence of annular fissure increased from 19% of those 20 years of age to 29% of those 80 years of age.

Imaging findings of spine degeneration are present in high proportions of asymptomatic individuals, increasing with age. Many imaging-based degenerative features are likely part of normal aging and unassociated with pain. These imaging findings must be interpreted in the context of the patient’s clinical condition.


So, what does this all mean?

If you receive an x-ray or MRI of your lower back and are told you have bulging or degeneration with your discs, you are going through NORMAL changes that occur as early as the third decade of life!! You are NOT broken and can be pain free and as functional as you’d like even with these findings.

If you have any of these issues and have more questions please feel free to contact OPTI and speak with one of our physical therapists. We are happy to help!


Brent Cordery, PT