To X-Ray or not to X-Ray. That is the question.
Imaging studies (such as x-ray, MRI and CT scans) are generally unnecessary for lower back pain unless there are “red flags” pointing to the possibility of a more serious condition. Don’t worry, red flag symptoms are rare and are easily assessed with a thorough health history and physical evaluation by a trained spine specialist.
In an article HERE, Consumer Reports comments on a survey performed by the National Physicians Alliance and the Archives of Internal Medicine regarding imaging studies performed within the first 6 weeks of onset of lower back pain:
Imaging for low back pain within the first six weeks. The doctors said that’s generally necessary only if there are red flags, such as progressive neurological problems or serious underlying conditions, such as osteomyelitis, a bone infection. Otherwise, the tests—including X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans—just increase costs without improving results.
Consumer Reports take: Our report on back pain also concluded that the tests are overused. If your doctor orders one, ask why, and how it will affect your treatment and management. Staying active through exercise, or physical or chiropractic therapy should often be tried before tests or treatment. In fact, back pain usually clears up on its own within a month or so.
Spine Strong’s Comments:
Imaging studies for lower back pain, performed in the absence of red flag symptoms, should be questioned immediately by the patient. You should ask “why do I need an imaging study?” and “how will it change my treatment plan?”. Remember, you have the right to question EVERYTHING your doctor recommends and you should exercise that right EVERY TIME a health care provider recommends a test or treatment. If you are dissatisfied with their reasoning, you also have the right to say no.