do i need a scan for my back?

A scan of your lower back is generally only required if there is concerning symptoms discussed above, or an injury mechanism involving significant or repetitive trauma. Furthermore, if there is potential that you have the irritation or compression of a nerve exiting your spine a scan may be ordered to assess this. For general lower back pain, scans - even MRIs and CT - can be of limited merit. Research is mounting that suggests that physical findings in scans can correlate poorly with a patient’s symptoms  - especially in cases of chronic lower back pain (1) - and this may impede recovery by creating anxiety and stress. Furthermore, many of the findings in scans are common to all individuals and may have nothing to do with the presentation of back pain. For instance, scans on healthy pain free people can show changes in discs and joints in the spine, suggestive of degeneration, but they are usually no cause for concern (2).

Your treating health professional will be able to discuss your back pain and advise you if a scan is beneficial to your management and recovery.


1. Giesecke, T., Gracely, R.H., Grant, M.A.B, Nachemson, A., Petzke, F., Williams, D.A. & Clauw, D.J. (2004). Evidence of augmented central pain processing in idiopathic chronic low back pain. Arthritis & Rheumatology, 50 (2), 613-623. DOI: 10.1002/art.20063         

    2. Brinjikji, P.H., Luetmer, B., Comstock, B.W., Bresnahan, L.E., Chen, R.A., Deyo, S., Halabi, J.A., Turner, A.L., Avins, K., James, J.T., Wald, D.F., Kallmes & Jarvik, J.G. (2015). Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36 (4), 811-816. DOI: