A new program on low back pain from NPS MedicineWise will address the mistaken belief that you need a scan (X-ray, CT scan or MRI) for a new episode of low back pain, and will provide advice on how to make a quick recovery through keeping active.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says low back pain is a common problem that is unpleasant and can be distressing, but most people will recover within weeks with simple management and without needing a scan.

“For around 90% of people with low back pain the cause can’t be found, which is called non-specific pain. Serious causes of low back pain, on the other hand, are rare,” said Dr Yoo. “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 said.

“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.”

What should you do about low back pain? Adopt an active approach and manage your pain with simple strategies.

“Don’t stay in bed. Get back to your usual activities including work as soon as you can. It may hurt at first when you’re active, but this doesn’t mean you’re damaging your back. In fact, staying active reduces your overall amount of pain and time off work and speeds up your recovery,” said Dr Yoo. “Heat packs can help relieve pain. For more severe pain, medicines can have a role. But don’t expect them to stop your pain completely. If they’re needed, take them to help you stay as active as possible.”

Facts and statistics:

  • Low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • Four out of five Australians will experience low back pain at some point in their lives
  • Up to 80% of 50-year-olds without low back pain have normal, age related changes in their spine
  • A scan for non-specific low back pain won’t help you get better faster (you may even feel worse)
  • Most people with low back pain recover within 4 to 6 weeks
  • Motion is lotion. Your back gets stronger with movement and activity

Resources and more information:

To find out more about the educational program go to www.nps.org.au/lowbackpain