Medical researchers from the University of Chapel Hill have found that giving x-rays to people with lower back pain can appear to worsen the outcome.
The study tracked two groups of patients - 421 in all - who had had lower back pain for over six weeks. One group was given radiography, the other was not.
Researchers found that after three months, patients who had initially received the radiography did not receive any clinical benefit. Indeed they reported having more pain for longer, reduced functioning and overall bad heath status.
The group not given radiography also reported being more satisfied with the care they received. The authors suggest radiography reinforces or encourages the patient's belief that they are unwell and may lead to a greater reporting of pain and limitation of actvities.
The authors said their study shows that radiography should not be given to patients suffering lower back pain unless serious spinal disease is suspected.