You’re a pain in my … back

I received the following global e-mail from primary care group. It makes perfect sense to me. More health care is not ahead better health care and there are risks with some of the care we do receive.

Dan just couldn’t get comfortable. Any direction he moved seemed to prompt a painful muscle spasm in his lower back. He stared at the computer screen, wondering how he was going to get any work done. He must have done something to cause this stabbing pain, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it was. All he’d done lately was sit at his desk.  That shouldn’t cause this kind of pain, right?

Your back hurts. We know how painful that can be. Your first instinct is to visit the doctor and ask for an X-ray, CT or MRI. After all, you want to know what’s wrong. Don’t be surprised if your primary care provider suggests waiting instead. Imaging tests aren’t always helpful for lower back pain.

Reasons Your Medical Provider May Advise Skipping the Test

With an acute episode of lower back pain, imaging tests will not help you feel better faster. Back pain takes about a month to ease, and, most of the time, it will improve whether or not you have an X-ray or MRI

Imaging tests come with risks. The harmful effects of radiation can add up. So, whenever possible, try to avoid radiation if you can

Imaging tests are expensive. With higher and higher deductibles, why pay for a test that is not going to help you get better faster?

Imaging tests can lead to unnecessary procedures, consults and surgery

Talk to your primary care provider about over-the-counter pain medicine as well as the value of walking to help diminish lower back pain.

When to Get a Test

When back pain coincides with these symptoms, however, your primary care provider will likely prescribe an imaging test:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever over 102
  • Loss of control of your bowel or bladder
  • Loss of feeling or strength in your legs
  • Problems with your reflexes
  • A history of cancer  
Talk to your doctor. Together, you can choose the best course of action for your unique health needs today.

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