Many scans for back pain may be unnecessary

Published: June, 2013

Many MRI scans for people with lower back pain are not medically necessary, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Experts used widely accepted criteria to decide, after the fact, if MRI scans ordered for back pain or headaches were really necessary to diagnose or treat the problem effectively. Sometimes a scan is not likely to reveal anything especially useful.

The study found that only 44% of scans of the lumbar spine (the lower back) were appropriate. Of the remaining scans, 56% were deemed either inappropriate or of "uncertain value." The study also looked at MRIs for headache, but found that the clear majority, 83%, were deemed medically valuable.

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