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An education program on low back pain unveiled by NPS MedicineWise has dismissed the need for an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to manage the restrictive condition following a new episode, suggesting instead that keeping active offers the best plan of action.

The leading cause of disability worldwide, low back pain affects four out of five Australians at some stage in their lives.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says low back pain is a common problem that can be distressing but most people recover within weeks through simple management and getting a scan is largely unnecessary.

“For around 90% of people with low back pain the cause can’t be found, which is called non-specific pain,” Dr Yoo explained.

“Serious causes of low back pain on the other hand are rare.

“With non-specific low back pain, scans have limited usefulness. They won’t change decisions made about your treatment and can even be harmful.”

Getting a scan may cause people to worry and lead to unnecessary treatment such as surgery, Dr Yoo added.

The NPS MedicineWise education program on low back pain encourages patients to remain active and avoid bed rest.

“Don’t stay in bed. Get back to your usual activities including work as soon as you can. It may hurt at first when you’re active, but this doesn’t mean you’re damaging your back. In fact, staying active reduces your overall amount of pain and time off work and speeds up your recovery,” Dr Yoo said.

“Heat packs can relieve pain. For more severe pain, medicines have a role. But don’t expect them to stop your pain completely. If they’re needed, take them to help you stay as active as possible.”

To find out more about the education program visit