The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.

There are no screening tests or screening guidelines for low back pain and sciatica.

Often, patients with pain may feel an urgent need to have imaging studies. Imaging studies are not routinely required for back pain and sciatica.

Most episodes of acute back pain resolve on their own over several weeks. In these cases, the information from an x-ray or MRI scan may not change the medical plan, so these tests may be unnecessary. An MRI scan or x-ray is usually ordered if there is a plan to do a procedure or surgery based on the result of the images.

Studies of medical imaging have demonstrated that MRI scan and x-ray may be too sensitive. They can often show abnormalities that are not truly significant, such as degenerated discs in individuals who do not even have symptoms. An improper medical test can lead to improper treatment and can greatly increase medical costs. It is important for such tests to be ordered appropriately.

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