Lumbar X-ray: should I worry?

Lumbar radiography is a diagnostic method used very frequently. However, do you really need an X-ray? If you do it, should you worry about what the radiological report says?

Many people believe that a lumbar x-ray or a resonance can identify the cause of the pain, But this is not entirely true. Here we will explain why.

Do I need a lumbar x-ray if my back hurts? Most likely not. In most cases, having a lumbar x-ray will not improve your treatment plan.

The main problem of lumbar radiographs, resonances, etc., is that radiological reports are interpreted as diagnoses, and they are not. These reports only describe what they see in the picture, regardless of your symptoms or your lifestyle.

What if I have a lumbar hernia?

A third of 21-year-olds have some type of disc degeneration and more than 50% of people, between 30 and 40, have disc degeneration or herniated discs without having low back pain or other related symptoms. This percentage increases with age, whether or not you have low back pain.

The severity of the herniated disc is also not related to the intensity of back pain. There are people who have very serious disc herniations and have no symptoms. In fact, lumbar hernias usually improve on their own.

Currently, it is believed that herniated discs are a natural process of the passage of time, Like wrinkles It is already known that they do not cause low back pain in themselves.

Disc herniation usually affects a large part of the adult population. However, a lumbar x-ray is not always necessary as part of the diagnosis.

Then I better get a resonance, right?

According to the patterns of action and follow-up of low back pain, no. If the person does not have "red flags", the resonance will not improve the results. Rather, it can increase surgery rates that in many cases will not solve the problem.

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What are the red flags?

Red flags are symptoms that can indicate a problem that requires immediate medical attention, such as a fracture or illness. If apart from the pain you have any of the following red flags, please consult your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Pain that started after a fall or trauma and does not decrease in intensity after 48-72 hours.
  • Disabling pain that prevents you from doing your daily activities.
  • Fever.
  • Sudden weight loss or no apparent cause.
  • Sphincter control problems.
  • Personal or family history of cancer.
  • History of steroid use.
  • Diabetes.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Hypertension.
  • Trouble walking
  • Numbness, punctures, tingling or burning in the legs or arms.
  • Impaired sensation in legs and arms.
  • If you are under 20 years old.
  • If you are over 50 years old.

If there are no "red flags" it is not advisable to do a lumbar x-ray.

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What if my back pain means that I have a serious illness?

Back pain rarely indicates a serious illness. Therefore, during diagnosis, the doctor will look for red flags before requesting specific studies.

Your low back pain is unlikely to be a symptom of a serious illness, as this happens in 1% of people with low back pain.

It is estimated that 80% of adults worldwide have suffered, suffer or will suffer from low back pain at some time in their lives, which makes that 1% even more unlikely, especially without the presence of red flags.

In any case, Your doctor will look for the red flags mentioned above. If there are, it will request the studies it deems appropriate.

Lumbar X-ray: conclusions

  • More lumbar radiographs are prescribed than necessary.
  • Herniated discs and disc wear are age-related changes, such as wrinkles or gray hair. They are not diseases.
  • Radiological reports are not diagnostic. They describe what appears in the image, do not take into account other factors such as your symptoms or your lifestyle.
  • Unless you have some red flag, You probably don't need a lumbar x-ray or any other imaging study.