Are MRIs Overused?

November 1, 2011

It’s a question posed in a The New York Times article last week that explored MRIs in sports medicine.

Are MRIs overused? It’s a question posed in a The New York Times article last week that explored MRIs in sports medicine.

“If you want an excuse to operate on a pitcher’s throwing shoulder, just get an MRI,” James Andrews, MD, a sports medicine orthopedist in Gulf Breeze, Fla., told the Times. He suspected that MRIs were overused, so he scanned 31 healthy athletes and found 90 percent had abnormal cartilage and 87 percent had abnormal rotator cuff tendons. Andrews and his sports medicine colleagues say that indeed the scan is overused and often not the oppropriate scan in sports injuries.

MRIs are sensitive but not very specific, as one doctor explained, so they can lead to misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments in sports medicine. Yet, sports medicine patients often demand an MRI and physicians are reluctant not to order one, according to the Times.

Of course, MRIs can be extremely helpful in sports medicine, but must be considered alongside history and an exam to avoid overuse, according to one source.

What do you think? Is there a fine line between appropriate use and overuse? Are there other areas where MRIs are often ordered but might not be the right scan?