A new educational topic on low back pain
from NPS MedicineWise will reframe the role of imaging in diagnosing non-specific low back pain, and provide practice tips on how to manage consumer beliefs and expectations around imaging for low back pain.
NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says that low back pain is a common problem yet that the vast majority of acute cases are non-specific and self-limiting, resolving within four to six weeks.
“Low back pain is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and one in seven Australians (13.6%) will suffer from back pain on any day,” said Dr Yoo.
“But early diagnostic imaging of the back is not recommended unless there’s a clinical suspicion of a serious spinal pathology, which accounts for less than 1% of all low back pain.
“Imaging is commonly requested to aid in diagnosis and guide treatment strategies. However, acute non-specific low back pain is essentially a clinical diagnosis and for patients with this condition, imaging doesn’t change management.
“Although patients may request imaging, they may not be aware of the harms that can result, such as anxiety from incidental findings and a greater risk of further investigations and inappropriate surgery, along with radiation exposure.
“When managing low back pain, patient education, reassurance and staying active are all first line treatments for patients with non-specific pain. Patients need to be reassured that experiencing back pain does not mean ongoing harm to the spine, but rather that staying active and maintaining normal movement are important elements of recovery,” she said.
The program will remind health professionals about diagnosis of non-specific low back pain, and alerting features for potential serious spinal pathologies that could require further investigation. It will also focus on how GPs can identify patients at increased risk of poor outcomes, and the importance of activity in recovery from low back pain.
The educational program corresponds with recent Choosing Wisely recommendations
on low back pain by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Australian Physiotherapy Association and Royal Australian College of Radiologists.
The program includes: