Scans for back pain may be a waste

February 6, 2009 1:54:31 PM PST
New research finds those routine CT scans or MRIs for back pain may be a waste of time and money. Up to 85 percent of Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their lifetime. Clinical guidelines usually recommend against the use of CAT scans or MRIs but many patients are receiving them anyway.

A study in the journal Lancet finds the scans did not help people get better faster, improve their pain levels or result in any greater mobility. Experts say this is because the treatment is the same with or without the scan. They add most patients will improve after treatment with painkillers, rest and physical therapy or low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming. They say the scans are expensive and expose patients to more radiation.

Researchers conclude doctors should order the scans only when they suspect a serious underlying problem such as nerve damage or cancer.