Avoid unnecessary scans, keep moving, and your low back pain will probably go away without extra treatment

Having an X-ray, CT or MRI scan usually won’t change your treatment for low back pain, and movement is the best medicine with the pain usually getting better within 4–6 weeks.

These messages are part of a new education program on low back pain from NPS MedicineWise, promoting the message that less scanning – and less medicine – is often more.

Four out of five Australians will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, with most low back pain having no serious underlying cause.

For around 90% of people with low back pain, the cause cannot be found. This doesn’t mean the low back pain isn’t real, but that it has no clear cause.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser and GP Dr Jeannie Yoo says diagnostic X-ray, CT or MRI scans are usually only needed if a serious underlying cause such as fracture, infection or cancer is suspected.

“In the absence of warning signs, scans are only likely to reveal normal age-related changes. These are not the cause of the pain, but may result in unnecessary worry and stress,” says Dr Yoo.

“Finding these kinds of changes does not alter the treatment.

“Medicines do have their place, as they may reduce the pain and make it easier to keep moving.

“Avoid bed rest and stay as active as you can. Using a heat pack on the back may help too,” she says.

These are just some of the tips covered in a new NPS MedicineWise article for consumers, ‘10 things you need to know about low back pain’.

Choosing Wisely Australia encourages people to ask questions around any test, treatment or procedure being recommended to them and offers a list of 5 questions people can ask their doctors or other healthcare providers.

Australia’s health professional bodies have made Choosing Wisely recommendations about low back pain management.

The NPS MedicineWise website has a low back pain hub, with more information on the education program for health professionals and consumers: www.nps.org.au/lowbackpain


Media contact

Matthew Harris
Media adviser
02 8217 9229, 0419 618 365 or [email protected]

Independent, not-for-profit and evidence-based. NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines, medical tests and other health technologies. We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.