X-rays Not the Answer to Satisfy Many Back PatientsLow back pain can be a challenge to treat effectively, especially when it lasts for several weeks. When it does, doctors often order X-rays of the spine to try to find the cause.
But spine X-rays have several drawbacks. They are expensive. They don't necessarily help doctors find the best treatment. And they expose the patient to radiation. So how cost-effective are spine X-rays in treating low back pain?
This British study followed more than 400 patients who had low back pain for over six weeks. The patients were divided into two groups. One group got standard care for low back pain. The other group automatically got spine X-rays. Researchers then tracked their progress for nine months.
At the end of the nine months, there was no difference in pain or back function between the two groups. Obviously, the X-rays didn't help doctors give better care. But there was one difference between the groups. Patients who had gotten spine X-rays said they were happier with their medical care.
In both groups, 80 percent of the patients said they would have chosen to get an X-ray at the beginning of treatment. But even after having X-rays, there's still a tendency for people to worry that their pain is caused by a serious problem.
Researchers recommend that future studies concentrate on finding more cost-effective ways of making patients with low back pain feel satisfied with their medical care.
Paul Miller, MSc, et al. Cost-Effectiveness of Lumbar Spine Radiography in Primary Care Patients With Low Back Pain. In Spine. October 15, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 20. Pp. 2291-2297.
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