Influence of imaging on clinical decision making in the treatment of lower back pain

Radiology. 2001 Aug;220(2):393-9. doi: 10.1148/radiology.220.2.r01au06393.


Purpose: To assess the impact of cross-sectional imaging with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging or computed tomography (CT) on clinical decision making for patients with lower back pain (LBP).

Materials and methods: A randomized controlled before-and-after study was performed in 145 patients who had symptomatic lumbar spinal disorders and had been referred to orthopedists or neurosurgeons. Participants were a subgroup within a multicenter pragmatic randomized comparison of two imaging policies on LBP treatment: "imaging" versus "no imaging," unless a clear indication developed. Paired assessments were made of diagnosis, diagnostic confidence, proposed treatment, treatment confidence at trial entry and follow-up, and expectations of imaging. Data were analyzed according to the groups as randomized.

Results: At follow-up, there were no statistically significant differences between the groups with respect to diagnosis or treatment plans. Significant increases in diagnostic and therapeutic confidence between trial entry and follow-up were observed for both groups, with a significantly greater increase in diagnostic confidence (P =.01) in the imaging group.

Conclusion: Imaging may increase diagnostic confidence but has minimal influence on diagnostic or therapeutic decisions for patients with LBP. The results highlight the need for evidence-based guidelines for imaging in LBP treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Back Pain / therapy*
  • Decision Making*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Patient Care Planning
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*