What do the MRI’s on my wall mean?

I keep three MRI slides on my wall. When people first walk in, they tend not to notice them, but they’re part of the very foundation of Upright Health. Without them, Upright Health might not even exist.

In my senior year of college, I did a study-abroad program in Germany.  At that point, I had already been as sedentary as one can be without going completely insane for three years. My doctors, chiropractors, and acupuncturists had all told me to rest, rest, and rest some more so that my wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain would go away.

Nobody really explained what good “rest” looked like, so I figured sitting on my butt, not playing sports, not running, not lifting weights, and just sitting in front of my laptop was a good way to rest. Occasionally, I’d try to play hockey or go for a job but it never went all that well. My shoulder would never take it so well, and I always felt short of breath.

So there I was in Bayreuth, Germany — resting. I started getting cabin fever, sitting in my dorm room as the frigid spring thawed into moderately warmer summer.  I decided to head out for a jog with a friend of mine, and I found that my left knee kept giving me this pinching sensation. I’d had knee discomfort in the past, and it tended to go away with exercise, so I figured once I got the blood flowing, the pinching would go away.

It didn’t.

Fifteen minutes of warmup jogging, and my knee was still pinching.

So I stopped.

I had also brought my roller hockey equipment with me to Germany (even with chronic pain, I never traveled without my hockey gear), hoping I’d find time and health enough to play.  I found that even when I skated gently on flat land, the knee pinched.

So I stopped.

And I discovered on a brief trip with friends to do some sightseeing in Hungary that my left knee pinched quite a bit.  I could not walk on flat land for more than ten minutes without pinching in my knee. Stairs made my knee so uncomfortable that I had to use my traveling companions as crutches to get down stairs.

I couldn’t very well stop walking altogether.

When I got back from that short trip to Hungary, I went straight to a doctor. He ordered MRI’s. After a nap in an MRI machine, I went home.

When I returned to the doctor’s office to discuss the findings, he examined my knee, looked at the MRI’s and gave me his firm diagnosis.

Keep in mind I’d been resting for 3 years already.

Keep in mind that it only took a few minutes of walking to set off the knee.

Keep in mind, again, that my chief activity for 3 years had been sitting on my butt.

Now, here is what the doctor told me:

“Your knee looks okay. You’re just using it too much. It’s repetitive strain. You just need to rest it.

And that’s when I realized that the answers I was being given made no sense at all.  The MRI’s on my wall are the symbol of the last straw for me. They are proof that a high tech scan can tell you absolutely nothing about a knee with pain. They are a reminder that the current medical approach to chronic pain and injury make very little sense, and that even the best of technologies can’t help you solve a problem if you aren’t looking at it from the right angle.

In the end, my body did need more rest AND more movement. It needed constructive rest and constructive movement. My body needed to be retrained to work the right way. More rest at the computer was making my whole body worse. More rest and exercise that restored my posture has put me back on the ice three to five days a week with no problems for my left knee.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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