2011-09-15 / Local & State

Tips For Reducing Low Back Pain

Have an aching back? You’re not alone.

Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most common reasons people see physicians. About one in four adults reported having LBP lasting at least one whole day in the past three months. Most often, the pain is caused by strain on bones, muscles, or ligaments.

While low back pain usually gets better after a few weeks of proper treatment, there are ways you can reduce or avoid it.

Prevention begins with lifting heavy objects carefully, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly. If you have pain, make an appointment with your physician to locate it and rule out a serious problem.

Tell your physician if you are having weight loss, fevers, weakness or loss of feeling in your legs, or any other symp- toms. Treatment options for LBP include medications, heating pads, exercise, or physical therapy. Remaining active is more effective than bed rest. If you need to have bed rest to alleviate severe pain, return to normal activities as soon as possible.

Doctors often order diagnostic imaging tests for patients with LBP that is not associated with any serious underlying disease. But after reviewing the clinical evidence, the American College of Physicians (ACP) – a national organization of internal medicine physicians – says that doctors should avoid this common practice.

“In most patients without serious underlying disorders, there is substantial improvement within a few days to a month with exercise and medications,” says Dr. Virginia Hood, president of ACP.

ACP found that diagnostic imaging tests such as Xrays, MRIs, and CT scans do not improve the health of patients with LBP that is due to strain on muscles, bones, or ligaments. About 85 percent of patients fall into this category.

Some evidence even suggested there are increased risks for patients getting unnecessary diagnostic imaging tests. These tests usually lead to further unnecessary tests, referrals, follow ups, and interventions that have no positive impact on the clinical outcomes of patients. Radiation exposure due to imaging tests can even increase risk for cancer over time.

ACP recommends that diagnostic imaging tests be reserved for select higher-risk patients who have major risk factors for or signs of spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, sciatica, vertebral compression fracture, cancer, or infection, or those who are candidates for invasive interventions. For more information, visit www.acponline.org.

ACP’s recommendations are part of its High Value, Cost- Conscious Care initiative, which is designed to help physicians provide the best possible care to their patients while reducing unnecessary health care costs without impacting patients’ health.

“Unnecessary diagnostic imaging tests are all too common and a significant component of our nation’s escalating health care costs,” says Dr. Hood. “More testing does not mean better care. The best way to maintain effective care is to identify and eliminate wasteful practices that don’t help patients or may even cause harm.”

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