Can an MRI make your pain worse?
Yup, even more about MRI's and how they are not as valuable in the grand scheme of things as one might think when it comes to treating low back pain (or neck pain, or likely any joint). In fact, having one can actually make your pain greater.
You should think like the opposite of the Nike ad, and "just don't do it" when it comes to MRI's for low back pain. Of course there's a time and place for an MRI, like when there are neurological deficits and such, but you owe it to yourself as a consumer to understand that in all likelihood an MRI will not "tell you why" you have back (or neck) pain. Nor will it yield any information that will help a skilled conservative based clinician (such as a PT, Chiropractor, or other none invasive health care provider). A good clinical exam should get that job done. Seek your providers wisely.
How could it make your pain worse you might ask. There is a saying "no brain, no pain". In essence we need a brain to evaluate signal from our body. The rub here is that the brain then decides if it needs to produce pain, and if so how much. Some research suggests that the fear and negativity associated with "seeing" a herniated disc on you MRI, or hearing terms like "degenerative disc disease" can put the brain in an over protective state. This in and of itself can amplify the pain messages it sends out. Wild but true.