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Back Pain & Osteoporosis

2004 Edition

New Research:
Rapid MRIs No Better Than X-rays for Low Back Pain Evaluation

For people with low back pain, an initial evaluation with rapid magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not result in a better outcome than with x-rays. In addition, rapid MRI incurs greater health care costs over the course of treatment and increases the likelihood of surgery, new data demonstrate.

In the study, researchers randomized 380 adults with low back pain to an evaluation with rapid MRI or x-rays. The patients’ primary care physicians were then allowed to follow whatever course of treatment they deemed appropriate for the patient.

After 12 months, patients in each group had similar levels of disability, pain, and general health. Patients in the rapid MRI group were more likely than those in the x-ray group to undergo low back surgery (6% vs. 2%).

While both patients and doctors preferred rapid MRI, the authors of the study do not recommend an MRI for patients treated for back pain by a primary care physician, unless future research reveals an advantage over x-rays.

Journal of the American Medical Association
Volume 289, page 2810
June 4, 2003


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Back Pain & Osteoporosis

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