PainScience.com Sensible advice for aches, pains & injuries
 
 
bibliography * The PainScience Bibliography contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers and others sources, like a specialized blog. This page is about a single scientific paper in the bibliography, Chou 2009.

Imaging for low-back pain does not improve clinical outcomes (without ominous signs)

updated
Chou R, Fu R, Carrino JA, Deyo RA. Imaging strategies for low-back pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2009 Feb;373(9662):463–72. PubMed #19200918.
Tags: back pain, imaging, pain problems, spine, diagnosis

PainSci summary of Chou 2009?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★★★★?5-star ratings are for sentinel studies, excellent experiments with meaningful results. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

“Some clinicians do lumbar imaging routinely or in the absence of historical or clinical features suggestive of serious low-back problems,” but this review of six studies of the subject clearly concludes that they really should not do that. It simply does no good, but it does waste resources and scare patients. As long as there are no signs of a serious underlying condition, “lumbar imaging for low back pain … does not improve clinical outcomes.”

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstractAbstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Some clinicians do lumbar imaging routinely or in the absence of historical or clinical features suggestive of serious low-back problems. We investigated the effects of routine, immediate lumbar imaging versus usual clinical care without immediate imaging on clinical outcomes in patients with low-back pain and no indication of serious underlying conditions.

METHODS: We analysed randomised controlled trials that compared immediate lumbar imaging (radiography, MRI, or CT) versus usual clinical care without immediate imaging for low-back pain. These trials reported pain or function (primary outcomes), quality of life, mental health, overall patient-reported improvement (based on various scales), and patient satisfaction in care received. Six trials (n=1804) met inclusion criteria. Study quality was assessed by two independent reviewers with criteria adapted from the Cochrane Back Review Group. Meta-analyses were done with a random effects model. FINDINGS: We did not record significant differences between immediate lumbar imaging and usual care without immediate imaging for primary outcomes at either short-term (up to 3 months, standardised mean difference 0.19, 95% CI -0.01 to 0.39 for pain and 0.11, -0.29 to 0.50 for function, negative values favour routine imaging) or long-term (6-12 months, -0.04, -0.15 to 0.07 for pain and 0.01, -0.17 to 0.19 for function) follow-up. Other outcomes did not differ significantly. Trial quality, use of different imaging methods, and duration of low-back pain did not affect the results, but analyses were limited by small numbers of trials. Results are most applicable to acute or subacute low-back pain assessed in primary-care settings.

INTERPRETATION: Lumbar imaging for low-back pain without indications of serious underlying conditions does not improve clinical outcomes. Therefore, clinicians should refrain from routine, immediate lumbar imaging in patients with acute or subacute low-back pain and without features suggesting a serious underlying condition.

related content

One article on PainScience.com cites Chou 2009 as a source:


This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights: