If you encounter a new episode of back pain, it’s normal to get worried. But sometimes the best thing to do is not to react immediately. While most young patients with new back pain are often reassured that the pain is likely to recover on its own, some doctors rush to investigate new back pain in older people with X-rays or MRIs, for fear of more serious underlying conditions. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that these early x-rays do not help patients aged 65 and above with their new episodes of back pain. Dr Yegappa, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon agrees with the conclusions of the study. He explains: “when a patient presents for the first time with back pain, a good history and physical exam is the most important thing. Back pain is extremely common in the population. At least 98% of the population will have back pain. There is no need to rush into imaging unless there has been a major injury, fall etc.” His colleague, Dr Razmi, also a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon uses a one-month guideline to decide if imaging studies are required, regardless of age. Unless your back pain has been persistent for more than a month or is known to be recurrent, he will advise you to allow it time to recover. However, if he suspects a fracture, cancer or infection, imaging becomes mandatory. In some cases however, patients are the ones who insist on further investigations to allay their fears. The truth is, most people experience back pain at least once in their life. This is usually due to muscle strain in the lower back and can often be treated with medication and physiotherapy. And for cases of acute back pain (intense pain that lasts for a short period of less than three months), 90% of patients will recover within 6 weeks, sometimes even without knowing the cause. How then would you know if you are suffering from a common case of acute back pain, or one that is a result of underlying conditions? Should you be worrying or waiting?
The best thing you can do is to see a trusted doctor by contacting our friendly medical concierge at +65 6679 7867. Alternatively, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help you make an appointment. Our panel of specialists is selected through a rigorous invite-only process, which involves a combination of reviews from peers, patients and other medical professionals.
You can trust them to deliver the highest standard of care and integrity and to advise on the best treatment for your condition, in turn helping you save on unnecessary investigations and bills.
Special thanks to Dr Yegappan and Dr Razmi for their comments.