Following up on my previous post about the necessity of X-rays, I came across a review of the literature for low back imaging.
In 1994, the AHPR began recommending against imaging of the low back in the early stages of acute low back pain. This study was undertaken to investigate the relationship between the use of immediate X-rays for the low back and the clinical outcome of the case.
479 articles were identified and reviewed. The authors found no differences in long term and short term outcomes between those who were X-rayed immediately and those who simply received treatment.
They concluded that for patients who present with simple uncomplicated low back pain (no red flags present), X-raying their back did not lead to any greater improvements. Since there is no benefit to imaging the back, but there are draw backs (radiation exposure, cost), routine imaging should be avoided.
Ultimately, every clinician has to rationalize their decisions when it comes to the assessment and treatment of their patients. I will often explain my decision not to X-ray with the fact that the X-ray result will not change my clinical management of their case. We know already from previous studies that many things are seen on X-ray and MRI that don’t have clinical relevance and may actually confuse the issue.
If you would like to read the original article, it can be found here.