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Originally published March 22 2009

X-Rays, MRI Scans Useless for Back Pain

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The use of MRIs, X-rays or CT scans provides no benefit in diagnosing patients with routine back pain, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University and published in the journal Lancet.

"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," wrote Michael Kochen of the University of Goettingen, Germany, in an accompanying editorial.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis on six prior studies on a total of 1,800 patients who had visited doctors complaining of lower back pain. They found that among those with no other signs of a serious underlying back condition, the use of MRI, X-ray or CT scans was not at all correlated with a better health outcome.

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits or missed work days. Underlying health conditions that can be diagnosed using the scans include arthritis, broken bones, herniated disks or muscle injuries. These conditions usually manifest through other symptoms in addition to back pain, however.

"Some clinicians still do lumbar-spine imaging routinely or without a clear indication, possibly because they aim to reassure their patients and themselves [or] to meet patient expectations about diagnostic tests," the researchers wrote.

Tests that do not provide any medical benefit are a waste of money, the researchers said.

"Additionally, imaging has some potentially serious side effects," Kochen said. "Radiation exposure is an important public health issue, particularly in women where imaging of the low back pain exposes ovaries to radiation."

Patients who insist upon such imaging in cases where it is not warranted should be warned that the procedures have limited usefulness, Kochen said.

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