Wanna know the definition of useless spending in the medical world?
There are lots of candidates for this title of course but the one that stands out for me is Xray imaging of the spine for recent-onset low back pain.
Studies have concluded that the majority (probably the great majority) of Xrays of the lower spine for a new case of back pain do not result in any change in treatment; that is, the person with pain would have been treated exactly the same way no matter the results of the Xray or (worse) CT scan.
Yet hundreds of thousands of such tests continue to be done for recent cases of back pain and many of them are simply unwarranted exposures to excess radiation.
In fact, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, 1/3 of new emergency visits for low back pain in the US get some sort of imaging test done (and as always, it’s very likely no different up here in Canada).
That’s a terrific overuse of what the lead researcher of this study politely called “potentially unwarranted imaging in the emergency setting”
What does this mean for you?
Whenever faced with a question of whether you need an Xray (of any body part but especially of the low back) for recent onset of pain, always make sure to ask two questions: “What exactly are you looking for?And based on my symptoms, how likely am I to have something that requires immediate diagnosis via an Xray or a CT scan?”