American College of Physicians

View all recommendations from this society

Released April 4, 2012

Don’t obtain imaging studies in patients with non-specific low back pain.

In patients with back pain that cannot be attributed to a specific disease or spinal abnormality following a history and physical examination (e.g., non-specific low back pain), imaging with plain radiography, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) does not improve patient outcomes.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American College of Physicians (ACP) formed a workgroup of eleven experienced internal medicine physicians with specific skills in the assessment of evidence. Members of this workgroup included physicians who were current members of the ACP Clinical Guidelines Committee, the Education and Publication Committee, the Board of Governors and the Board of Regents, as well as three ACP staff physicians. The group collaboratively identified and narrowed down screening or diagnostic tests commonly used in clinical situations where they are unlikely to provide high value or improve patient outcomes. The results were further reviewed and narrowed by clinically active ACP staff physicians before being placed for review into a randomly selected internal medicine research panel. Representing 1 percent of ACP members, the panel selected five scenarios that represented the greatest potential for overuse or misuse of a diagnostic test leading to low value care. Based upon this process, the final top five scenarios were identified.

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2009 NICE low back pain guideline; 2008 ACR Appropriateness Criteria® low back pain guideline; 2007 ACP/APS low back pain guideline; 2007 ACOM low back disorders guideline.