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Athletes, Think Twice About Getting That MRI

Doctors say they're overused and often misleading
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2011 12:26 PM CDT

(Newser) – Attention weekend warriors: If your doctor recommends an MRI—or worse, surgery based on its results—be very skeptical. That's the gist of a New York Times article explaining that a growing number of specialists in sports medicine think MRIs are way overused, often misleading, and sometimes just a way for less scrupulous practitioners to make a quick buck.

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Consider that one skeptical doctor took MRIs of 31 healthy baseball pitchers; the results turned up supposedly abnormal cartilage and rotator cuffs in about 90% of them. The tests, it turns out, almost never come back normal—they're so sensitive they pick up inconsequential things that would be better left alone. An MRI "is not very specific," says another expert. "That's the problem." Another problem: injured patients who demand the tests because they've heard so much about them. (Read more sports medicine stories.)

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