Imaging (MRI, CT scans) for lower back pain
The purpose: Pinpointing the source of your discomfort
Why you might want to skip it: According to a 2010 study, MRIs not only don't improve recovery but can increase a patient's likelihood of having surgery as much as eightfold. What's more, imaging tests expose you to radiation that, over time, may increase your risk for cancer.
You could be better off... rehabbing with physical therapy and taking anti-inflammatory meds. "I recommend these treatments first if the patient doesn't have any red flags like cancer or bone infection," says Zackary Berger, MD, PhD, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Bone mineral density scan
The purpose: Screening for osteoporosis
Why you might want to skip it: A study in the journal Menopause found that 40 percent of women who received the scans did not meet the standard criteria for testing, such as being 65 or older or at risk for osteoporosis. If the test reveals mild bone loss, you may be prescribed osteoporosis medication, even though evidence suggests it would have little effect. "Taking medication you don't need can expose you to side effects," says Margery Gass, MD, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. "Ironically, these drugs can also increase the risk of fractures of the femur."
You could be better off... waiting until you're 65. "If you're 50 or over, keeping your bones strong is essential," says Gass, "so start strength training and eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D."
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