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Originally published February 24 2009

Routine Imaging Scans for Lower Back Pain Found to be Unnecessary

by Reuben Chow

(NaturalNews) Perhaps due to a combination of poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, desk-bound jobs and bad posture, back pain is one of the most common ailments to affect people in developed countries. A recent study has found that the routine use of scans like X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans on persons suffering from lower back pain may be unnecessary. Further, not only are such diagnostic tests costly, two of them also come with low-dose radiation exposure.

Back Pain Statistics

2006 figures released by the National Center for Health Statistics state that over one in four Americans, or about 76.5 million of them, reported having some sort of pain which lasted for over 24 hours (this figure excludes acute pain). Among these chronic pain sufferers, by far the largest proportion are hit by back pain, with face pain, neck pain, severe headaches and migraines completing the top of the charts.

Although estimates differ, as many as 31 million Americans could be having lower back pain at any point in time. Annually, at least 50 billion American health care dollars are attributed to the condition - and that only takes into account the more obvious costs. Further, back pain is said to be the number one reason of disability for Americans aged below 45.

Details and Findings of Study

For the said study, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, led by Dr Roger Chou, had looked at the findings of six previous studies. Those studies had covered about 1,800 persons who had pain in the lower back. The findings of Dr Chou's team were published in The Lancet.

The study team found that patients who did not display sign of any serious underlying cause but who were in any case promptly given an imaging scan did not do any better than those who were treated using standard procedures without the performance of diagnostic imaging tests.


Back pain can be caused by a myriad of different factors. It is true that the abovementioned tests are useful for detecting arthritis, fractures, herniated discs and muscle injuries. The problem, however, is that doctors are often immediately sending patients for such scans even though there is no concrete sign of an underlying problem.

They probably do so for reassurance and peace of mind, both for themselves and patients, that nothing is seriously wrong. It is also probable that the patients themselves are requesting for such tests. However, such scans are very costly, especially MRI scans. In addition, the radiation from X-rays and CT scans are a known cancer risk. Scanning the lower back could have worse impact for women, as it exposes their ovaries to radiation.

The researchers have urged doctors not to order the scans without any concrete signs. This was echoed by Dr Michael Kochen from the University of Goettingen in Germany. "If there are no warning signs pointing to a serious cause of low back pain, imaging is almost never helpful to guide treatment. Routine imaging of patients with low back pain is a waste of health care resources," he said. He added that patients who insist on undergoing such tests should be informed of their limited usefulness.

Treatment and Prevention

If you suffer from back pain of any kind, a chiropractor is a good choice of therapist to seek. Chiropractic spinal manipulation is non-invasive, effective, and relatively very safe. Unlike drug intervention, chiropractic can also correct underlying postural and alignment issues which could be causing the discomfort.

As is often said, prevention is better than cure. The American Chiropractic Association offers the following tips to prevent back pain.

* Consume a healthy diet.
* Stay in the healthy weight range.
* Do not stay in bed or be inactive for too long.
* Stay active, but under the supervision of your Doctor of Chiropractic (DC).
* Carry out a warm up routine before exercise or other physical activities.
* Maintain good posture.
* Wear comfortable low-heeled shoes.
* Use a mattress of moderate firmness - this minimizes spinal curvature while you sleep.
* When lifting objects: use your knees; keep the object close to your body; and do not twist your body.
* Do not smoke - as smoking impairs blood flow; spinal tissue would be deprived of oxygen and nutrients.
* Consult with your DC to make sure that your computer workstation is ergonomically correct.

You may also wish to read a related article on reconsidering having MRI and CT scans at


Study questions routine X-rays, MRIs for back pain (

American Pain Foundation - Pain Facts & Figures (

American Chiropractic Association (

About the author

Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth. His website, All 4 Natural Health, offers a basic guide on natural health information. It details simple, effective and natural ways, such as the use of nutrition, various herbs, herb remedies, supplements and other natural remedies, to deal with various health conditions as well as to attain good health. His other websites also cover topics such as depression help, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as cancer research and information.

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