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PLoS One. 2016 Jan 5;11(1):e0146369. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146369. eCollection 2016.

The Use of Lumbar Spine Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Eastern China: Appropriateness and Related Factors.

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Spine lab, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310003, PR China.


Back pain is common and costly. While a general scene of back pain related practice in China remains unknown, there are signs of excessive use of lumbar spine magnetic resonance (MR). We retrospectively studied 3107 lumbar spine MRIs in Eastern China to investigate the appropriateness of lumbar spine MR use. Simple back pain is the most common chief complaint for ordering a lumbar MR study. Only 41.3% of lumbar spine MR studies identified some findings that may have potential clinical significance. Normal lumbar spine is the most common diagnosis (32.7%), followed by lumbar disc bulging and lumbar disc herniation. Walk difficulties, back injury and referred leg pain as chief complaints were associated with greater chance of detecting potentially clinically positive lumbar MR image findings, as compare with simple back pain. There was no difference in positive rates among orthopedic surgeon and specialists of other disciplines. Lumbar spine MR imaging was generally overused in Eastern China by various specialists, particularly at health assessment centers. For appropriate use of lumbar spine MR, orthopedic surgeons are no better than physicians of other disciplines. Professional training and clinical guidelines are needed to facilitate evidence-based back pain practice in China.

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