Using medical imaging on people who have low back pain that has no apparent underlying cause doesn’t improve clinical outcomes, says an article by US News & World Report based on a recent study in the Lancet.

A systematic review of 6 RESEARCH STUDIES that included more than 1,800 participants and found a wide range of outcomes – including pain and functioning, quality of life, mental health, overall improvement, and patient satisfaction – showed no differences between patients who received immediate imaging and those given usual clinical care. The results apply most strongly to patients with acute or sub-acute low back pain assessed in a family physician’s office, said the study. 

“Rates of utilization of lumbar MRI are increasing, and implementation of diagnostic-imaging guidelines for low back pain remains a challenge,” the authors said. “However, clinicians are more likely to adhere to guideline recommendations about lumbar imaging now that these are supported by consistent evidence from higher-quality, randomized controlled trials.”

Patient expectations and preferences also need to be addressed, they added, citing one study of people with low back pain in which 80% of the participants said they would have imaging, if given the choice, even without expected benefits.