American Society of Anesthesiologists – Pain Medicine

View all recommendations from this society

Released January 21, 2014

Avoid imaging studies (MRI, CT or X-rays) for acute low back pain without specific indications.

Imaging for low back pain in the first six weeks after pain begins should be avoided in the absence of specific clinical indications (e.g., history of cancer with potential metastases, known aortic aneurysm, progressive neurologic deficit, etc.). Most low back pain does not need imaging and doing so may reveal incidental findings that divert attention and increase the risk of having unhelpful surgery.

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 Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Committee on Pain Medicine was charged with developing the “Top 5 List” on pain medicine for the Choosing Wisely® campaign. Committee members submitted potential recommendations for the campaign, and from this list voted on which recommendations should be included in the final “Top 5 List.” The literature was then searched to provide supporting evidence. The Committee communicated electronically and met in person during the development and approval process. Once approved by the Committee, the “Top 5 List” was reviewed by ASA’s Chair of the Section on Subspecialties, Vice President for Scientific Affairs, Executive Committee and Administrative Council. ASA’s “Top 5 List” for pain medicine has been endorsed by the American Pain Society.

ASA’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at


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