Two articles on PainSci cite Webster 2013: 1. Complete Guide to Low Back Pain 2. MRI and X-Ray Often Worse than Useless for Back Pain
original abstract †Abstracts 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.
STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the effect of early (receipt ≤30 d postonset) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on disability and medical cost outcomes in patients with acute, disabling, work-related low back pain (LBP) with and without radiculopathy.
SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Evidence-based guidelines suggest that, except for "red flags," MRI is indicated to evaluate patients with persistent radicular pain, after 1 month of conservative management, who are candidates for surgery or epidural steroid injections. Prior research has suggested an independent iatrogenic effect of nonindicated early MRI, but it had limited clinical information and/or patient populations.
METHODS: A nationally representative sample of workers with acute, disabling, occupational LBP was randomly selected, oversampling those with radiculopathy diagnoses (N = 1000). Clinical information from medical reports was used to exclude cases for which early MRI might have been indicated, or MRI occurred more than 30 days postonset (final cohort = 555). Clinical information was also used to categorize cases into "nonspecific LBP" and "radiculopathy" groups and further divided into "early-MRI" and "no-MRI" subgroups. The Cox proportional hazards model examined the association of early MRI with duration of the first episode of disability. Multivariate linear regression models examined the association with medical costs. All models adjusted for demographic and medical severity measures.
RESULTS: In our sample, 37% of the nonspecific LBP and 79.9% of the radiculopathy cases received early MRI. The early-MRI groups had similar outcomes regardless of radiculopathy status: much lower rates of going off disability and, on average, $12,948 to $13,816 higher medical costs than the no-MRI groups. Even in a subgroup with relatively minimal disability impact (≤30 d of total lost time post-MRI), medical costs were, on average, $7643 to $8584 higher in the early-MRI groups.
CONCLUSION: Early MRI without indication has a strong iatrogenic effect in acute LBP, regardless of radiculopathy status. Providers and patients should be made aware that when early MRI is not indicated, it provides no benefits, and worse outcomes are likely.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 3.
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:
- Is Neck Posture Subgroup in Late Adolescence a Risk Factor for Persistent Neck Pain in Young Adults? A Prospective Study. Richards 2021 Phys Ther.
- Photobiomodulation therapy is not better than placebo in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Guimarães 2021 Pain.
- No effect of creatine monohydrate supplementation on inflammatory and cartilage degradation biomarkers in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. Cornish 2018 Nutr Res.
- The CANBACK trial: a randomised, controlled clinical trial of oral cannabidiol for people presenting to the emergency department with acute low back pain. Bebee 2021 Med J Aust.
- Relationships Between Sleep Quality and Pain-Related Factors for People with Chronic Low Back Pain: Tests of Reciprocal and Time of Day Effects. Gerhart 2017 Ann Behav Med.