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Acute low back pain and imaging

Posted by medconsumers on January 15, 2009

People with acute low back pain do not benefit from immediate x-rays or high-tech imaging techniques like CT scans because these diagnostic procedures do not lead to reduced pain, improved function, or a better quality of life. This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis of six randomized trials. Immediate imaging had no significant effect on any outcome measured between three weeks and one year after the back pain began.

All six trials had compared care with and without immediate imaging for people with short-term back pain (less than three months) and no symptoms suggesting serious pathology, such as infections or cancer.

Doctors should resist pressure from patients and follow international guidelines that already recommend against imaging, wrote the authors of this meta-analysis. “It is ineffective, costly, and exposes people to unnecessary radiation or even unnecessary invasive treatments.”

Lancet, 2009 373(9662):463-7

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