Study: Some MRI can do more harm than good for lower back pain

series of papers recently published online in the Lancet aims to raise awareness about lower back pain and evidence for recommended treatment.  

One topic discussed was the widespread use of "inappropriate," "unnecessary," "ineffective" and "harmful" MRIs performed on patients with lower back pain, according to a recent article published June 14 by The Guardian. 

“There is a very poor relationship between changes on MRI scans and the presence or absence of low back pain," Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, a general practitioner and a professor at Warwick Medical School, told The Guardian. “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

Underwood and colleagues noted that more than half of patients with lower back pain in the U.S. are referred for MRI because patients insist on the tests, according to the article. Specifically, Underwood explained that for nonspecific low back pain, MRIs do more harm than good and can change a patient's and clinician's behavior.  

"A [MRI] scan can change a patient’s behavior because they’re told there’s some wear-and-tear damage in their back; but most people have wear-and-tear damage in their back and when you get to my age, I’m sure everybody does," Underwood said. " They [clinicians] are more likely to offer invasive procedures if they can see something on an MRI scan that they can treat." 

Read The Guardian's entire story below: