Is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Overused In Sports Injuries?

8 May 2020

In a previous article, we highlighted the issue of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan leading to unnecessary back surgeries (Does more MRI scanners do more good or harm?).  The issue now seems to be spreading to the sporting arena.

MRI of Shoulder Impingement

A sports medicine orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews, wanted to test his suspicion; that MRI scans given to almost every injured athlete or casual exerciser, might be a bit misleading. He MRI-ed 31 pitchers. They were perfectly healthy, and had no problems with pain, discomfort, or performance in their pitching arm. As suspected, the MRI picked up problems in the rotator cuff and shoulder cartilage of nearly 90 percent of these asymptomatic pitchers.  For more about this story, read “Sports Medicine Said to Overuse M.R.I.’s”

This is a disturbing trend in medicine. We develop and build ever increasingly more accurate or more precise machines. However, our diagnostic ability to interpret the results is not always developing at the same pace. This phenomenon is known as “false precision” in science and engineering fields, where data is presented in a manner that implies better precision than is actually the case. Since precision is a limit to accuracy, this often leads to overconfidence in the accuracy as well.