UW study: Imaging on first hospital visit for back pain can lead to unnecessary surgery

SEATTLE -- Older adults complaining about back pain should think twice before getting an MRI or spinal X-Rays on their first visit to the doctor.

The University of Washington released the report Tuesday in the journal of the American Medical Association.

Patients 65 and older typically get imaging done on their first visit, but experts say they should wait 4-6 weeks which is the standard for younger patients.

UW Professor of Radiology Dr. Jeffrey Jarvik says imaging shows too much and can lead to unnecessary surgeries and intervention.

"The bottom line is that you really shouldn't be treating older adults any differently than you are treating younger adults," said Jarvik. "The concern that you're going to be missing something serious, is probably overblown."

Jarvik also says the study found if a patient is still complaining of back pain after the 4-6 week period, getting an X-Ray is a good idea.