Abstract: The Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) initiative is a partner in a global effort to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of medical care by stimulating conversations between patients and care givers about the benefits and risks of commonly done tests and treatments. One of the earliest and broadly publicized recommendations was to stop routine lumbar spine imaging in the absence of clinical red flags. The rationale for discouraging this practice, including the quantification of associated harm, is not as widely known. The CWC initiative includes "Toolkits" for a number of clinical conditions, which extend the conversation beyond what should be avoided to include recommendations for appropriate care. The Alberta CWC partners have developed a Toolkit for low back pain for use by individual clinicians, physician groups, and at the systems level.
Key Words: Low back pain, imaging, overuse, red flags.
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In the absence of red flags and/or significant chronicity don't order x-rays or advanced imaging for low back pain.
Be cautious about attributing any findings from imaging as the "cause" of low back pain in a particular patient; recognize normal age related changes.
Low back imaging is required in the presence of clinical Red Flags for which invasive intervention is planned. Clinical correlation of the images is mandatory.
The indications for specific interventional treatments either surgical or image guided must be determined by history and physical examination.
Most low back pain patients need treating, not testing.
Patients presenting with low back pain are often anxious and worried that they may have a serious underlying anatomical cause. This anxiety is not relieved by discussions of abnormalities found on routine imaging.
Patients respond to a treatment plan that is supported by pertinent handouts and clear explanations including discussions about when imaging could be considered and when a referral might be the correct course.
Treatment for low back pain should not be delayed until the cause has been "established" by investigation; appropriate treatment can be determined by the history and physical examination and supported by the anticipated positive clinical response.
A successful back school educates the patient about the benign nature of back pain and provides the tools to transfer knowledge about back hygiene into practice in the patient's life.
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