Ghana Medical Journal

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Lumbar Spine X-Ray as a Standard Investigation for all Low back Pain in Ghana: Is It Evidence Based?

Abena Y. Tannor


Background: Low back pain (LBP) has a prevalence of 84% in Africa. The commonest form of imaging is plain lumbar spine x-ray. It gives a radiation dose equivalent to 65 times a chest x-ray dose and sends one of the highest doses to the human reproductive organs. The commonest cause of LBP in Africa is degenerative disease. X-ray findings
do not change mode of treatment yet most physicians still routinely request for x-rays.

Methods: This is a systematic review of databases including The Cochrane, CINAHL plus, AMED, and MEDLINE. Key evidence was clinical guidelines on x-ray use for low back pain. Key search terms included low back pain, xrays, guidelines, Ghana.

Results: Four clinical guidelines on LBP emerged from two Systematic Reviews rated excellent and four good Randomized Controlled Trials: The European guidelines for acute and sub-acute non-specific Low Back Pain, The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society guideline for diagnostic imaging for Low Back Pain, The NICE guidelines for persistent non-specific Low Back Pain and the Ghana Standard Treatment Guidelines (GSTG). All the guidelines agree that a good history and clinical examination for all LBP patients helps in diagnosing. Only GSTG recommends routine plain spinal x-rays.

Conclusion: There is strong evidence indicating very little benefit from routine lumbar spine x-rays for all LBP. The GSTG needs to be revised considering the increased risks of radiation exposure and the x-ray costs.

Funding: None declared

Keywords: low back pain, investigations, x-rays, guidelines, Ghana
AJOL African Journals Online