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Avoiding unnecessary treatment for back pain


When a patient complains of low back pain the first course of action is usually to send them off for an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. At worst, it can end in invasive and unnecessary surgery.

But health professionals are being advised to instead prescribe activity and simple management techniques, like the use of hot pack, in a new suite of resources on how to diagnose and treat low back pain without the need for a scan or surgery.

The comprehensive and easy-to-navigate resources, available on the NPS MedicineWise website, includes information for health professionals and consumers as well as CDP options for GPs and nurses.

They include key points about back pain, fact sheets, clinical resources and links to the latest research and review papers.

According to NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo most people don’t need a scan and will recover within weeks through the right management, which includes getting out of bed and moving.

“With non-specific low back pain, scans have limited usefulness. They won’t change the decisions made about your treatment and can even be harmful,” she says.

“As we age our bodies change, hair goes grey and skin gets wrinkles. Although a scan can be expected to show age related changes in your spine, these are not necessarily the cause of your pain. However, knowing about these changes may cause you to worry and lead to treatment that is unnecessary, including surgery.”

A few facts on low back pain

  • low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • no clear cause can be identified for 90 per cent of low back pain
  • non-specific low back pain can be diagnosed clinically without imaging
  • education, reassurance and advice to stay active should be considered first-line therapy

The resources can be found here.

NPS MedicineWise is an independent organisation which aims to promote quality and safe use of medicines.

Do have a resource you’d like to share with our readers? Email us at editorial@australianageingagenda.com.au 

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