"Back pain is one of the more poorly understood aspects of medicine, and diagnosing and treating low back pain can be a tricky diagnosis, even for people who do it full-time. But there does need to be some curtailing in the use of imaging, because diagnostic costs are getting out of control," said Cohen.
However, both experts said that doctors can usually tell from a physical exam and someone's description of their pain whether or not an imaging test is really necessary.
Both Cohen and Qaseem said that a better dialogue between patient and physician could go a long way in reducing the use of unnecessary imaging tests.
"Shared decision-making is really important. Most patients don't want to get tests that aren't beneficial, so it's important to talk. Patients need to ask questions like, 'If I do get this test, what are the benefits or harms?'" said Qaseem.
"We have a bountiful access to technology, but we don't necessarily need all that stuff every time. The majority of back pain will get better without surgery. We need to empower patients, and let patients be a part of the process," said Cohen.
Read more about back pain from the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
SOURCES: Amir Qaseem, M.D., Ph.D., director, clinical policy, medical education division, American College of Physicians, Philadelphia; Anders Cohen, M.D., chief, neurosurgery and spine surgery, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York City; Feb. 1, 2011, Annals of Internal Medicine
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