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Scans may not improve back pain outcomes

PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Routine use of X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging doesn't improve outcomes for treating low-back pain, U.S. physicians found.

A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials with a total of more than 1,800 patients found no significant differences between clinical care that included immediate X-ray or MRI and clinical care not involving immediate imaging.

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Given the findings, published in The Lancet, the researchers recommend physicians not order routine scans in patients with low-back pain unless they observe features of a serious underlying condition.

"Our study shows that performing routine X-rays or MRIs for patients with low-back pain does not lead to improved pain, function or anxiety level, and there were even some trends toward worse outcomes," Dr. Roger Chou of the Oregon Evidence-Based Practice Center at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland said in a statement.

While clinicians may think they are helping patients by doing routine X-rays or MRIs, Chou, the study lead author, said these diagnostic tests "increase medical costs, can result in unnecessary surgeries or other invasive procedures, and may cause patients to stop being active -- probably the best thing for back health -- because they are worried about common findings such as degenerated discs or arthritis, not understanding that these are very weakly associated with back pain."

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