My doctor won’t do an X-ray or scan for my back pain – why not?

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  1. Janet Dorey

    What should have been done for my 60-year-old friend, whose family doctor did not believe in burdening the health care system with unnecessary MRIs and CAT scans? Only when his back pain became unbearable was he properly investigated. By that time, multiple myeloma had destroyed several vertebra. Earlier detection may have lead to earlier diagnosis, and saved him further compression fractures.

    • Mike Poling

      There are clinical signs of myeloma. These would have to have been ignored. A clinical exam would detect it long before if it is done properly.

    • Tara

      Ditto for my mother. She was 69. Only once she was unable to breathe and went to emergency did they finally decide to do diagnostic testing and discover that she had stage 4 lung cancer. Chemo and radiation did not start until 4 weeks after diagnosis. She died exactly 5 weeks after diagnosis when a lethal overdose of opiates was accidentally given to her. The system failed her miserably.

    • Tina Lepage

      I agree as a citizen of canada we all have a right to timely health care tests .cutting down on these tests only causes unnecessary pain and sufffering and can cause alot of stress and anxiety for patients .If I feel I need a ct scan and my dr doesnt then hes denying me access to health care .its not his body and his life where he cant work due to pain .

  2. Chris

    Excellent article. As someone who works in diagnostic imaging we see this all the time.

  3. Carol

    I had shoulder pain for several weeks and my doctor did an xray and ultra sound which found arthritis and tendonitis. That gave the physiotherapist the information she needed to treat me properly. I’m certainly glad my doctor did not have the same attitude as Paul Taylor
    My friend had bad headaches and EVENTUALLY received a diagnosis of a brain tumor, but too late. He’s dead.

  4. Debbie

    I agree with the above statements. Working in the hospital, I see many unessary testing wich results in back up in the bed flow. As well as other incidences where some who really need the help are overlooked because we are creative a very insensitive system with compassion burnout!

  5. Dr. Donna Alden-Bugden, Nurse Practitioner

    Most back pain can be ruled out as harmless by asking about a serious red flags. If any red flags exist, then of course your physician or nurse practitioner will order tests. If there are no red flags like history of cancer, fevers, weight loss and new back pain in those over 50, then conditions like arthritis and tendinitis can be diagnosed by clinical exam and physio or other treatments can be started without doing an X-ray or MRI. Back pain that does not get xrayed does not mean the physician or nurse practitioner will ignore it. Follow up with the patient at 2 weeks and 6 weeks after treatment and therapy should reveal a decrease in pain or pain is gone. If pain actually is worsening, then again a physician or nurse practitioner would order more diagnostics. Just a my 2 cents from a nurse practitioner.

    • Paul m

      That’s fine if you can afford to pay a dollar a minute for physio , or wait 6 months for the system to catch up with you , as a pensioner I can’t afford a dollar a minute for physio but guess that’s another subject

  6. Linda griffin

    As a nurse of more than 40 years this is dangerous & a good way to miss serious things. I understand that way to many tests r done but is it worth saving one life?

    • Paul m

      True okay after 1 or 2 weeks no x Ray that’s fine but after nearly 3 months like myself no improvement , seems to me it’s kind of a lottery in some ways

  7. Chris walsh

    my “back pain” along with multiple plea’ s for scans and treatment were called “soft muscle” issues and I was never given scans
    for near three years, this soft muscle flared up about every 5 to 6 weeks
    sometimes so bad my wife needed to dress me.
    I finally convinced my doctor to send for a scan and I have 2 herniated discs in my lumbar spine, and 2 bulging discs along with nerve root compression
    Keep telling people it’s nothing…

    • Steve

      It has become socialized medicine. “You will take what they give you. They will give you whatever they want.” They are not too worried about giving you quality medical care, because of the quantity of the newly insured patients. Thank Obama for that.
      There is also the value of the patient. Meaning that your care could be based on the (recent) stock prices of the health care industry. Stocks that a lot of wealthy people who were in the know, bought…just before the mandate was forced upon America ( and we see how well that has worked). Your health care experience is based upon someone else’s desire for profit.
      Fast and cheap is what you are getting.

      • Anna D


        I totally disagree with you about Obama care being the root of medicine going awry to state it bluntly.

        I have been 21 years in a medical state of ignorance of doctors and refusal to find out what is going on with me. I have been misdiagnosed incorrectly more than you can imagine. No matter how much speaking up I have done, I have been ignored and even berated terribly for saying anything. My health is awful and my life is compromised greatly. Doctors simply do not care. They are profit driven and lack all compassion.

        • Adam

          Agree totally, have been misdiagnosed since 16yrs old with leg and back muscle spasms, sciatic nerve pain, moderate to severe back pain, morning to mid-afternoon nausea, 1-2 migraines/month, periods of twitching nerves, continuous left shoulder and right hip issues, symptoms were ignored until the age of 22 when my hip literally dislocated and popped back in but did not seat properly in the same position. DoctorS! Not one but 4 all brushed it off after going through a week of agony and inability to handle any stairs without crawling; saying it was soft tissue and recommended physio-therapy. Paid for 3 2hr sessions/week because the waiting list was 4-6months for insured; went a yr and a half before physiotherapist recommended doc proceed further after declining in mobility with no other improvement. Doc did MRI and still brushed off to soft tissue.. Physiotherapist recommended to a surgeon, who did MRI and CT, still could not see anything wrong but said he knew but couldn’t be sure until performing surgery. Went for it for any type of resolution. Turns out a Labral tear in the right hip, all patched up in 6hrs, 2week recovery, another year of Physik and minor/moderate improvement to mobility but only minor decline in pain. Went back to doc to check back again, brushed off as age-related/injury-related pain.. insisted on X-rays. Found 2 transitional vertebrae but and I quote “it’s not causing the pain you speak of”. Fast forward to age 37, unable to stay on any type of schedule due to lack of good sleep after pursuing every sleep clinic, pain remedies other than meds, performing physiology excercises 2-3x daily to try to maintain range of motion and pain management… Find out I have sciatic scoliosis with a Cobb angle of 25*, and though I can see how my body is contorting out after having it pointed out by a chiropractic friend, chest rotated left tilted back, ribs jutting on the left, spine jogging left from the pelvis, curving back right through abdomen into chest/ribs and back left again to straighten out, pelvis rotated right and tilted forward, duckfoot on right side. After seeing doc, new X-rays, same image as at 22, and yes the duckfoot was there at 16 too, soft tissue/excercise.. I have a family to provide for now, have run my own business since 21yo, how can I even fathom the recommended spinal fusing? Am trying chiropractors and increased exercises for scoliosis to try to alleviate the pain and improve quality of life, and I may be wrong but I don’t think this should have fallen through the cracks when it’s noticeably seen with an untrained eye looking for it; but as well can understand the other side as same doctor thought I had a brain tumour, monitored it for several years then concluded it was simply a bone spur and the diagnostics were read wrong. Who do you trust with your health?

        • Tamara B

          Thank you Ann D for that statement. Everytime an incident comes up its about Obamacare just absurd that racism is still the case here. The fact is the doctors would rather you keep bringing them the money to keep giving wrong advice about your pain instead of you being able to put money into 1 test that may reveal more issues. We need to be able to get the test especially if we’re paying out of pocket.

      • Jessie P

        Oh Shut up this has been going on Long before Obama stop being ignorant and stop looking to find reasons to blame him for your lack of understanding/wisdom

    • Paul m

      I feel for you I have had continuous probs back for 13 weeks given exercises not helping no scan guess I may have to wait longer before I get diagnosed properly then when I know maybe then treatment may be more effective turned from very active to hardly moving adding 10 lb to my frame guess will have to wait the process

  8. Veronica

    I have hashimotos and has the antibodies twice along with hyperthyroidism that remitted. My eyes started to bulge when I’d wake up which isn’t consistent with Hashimotos it’s constitent with Graves.

    I asked my doctor to run a TSI antibodies test. He refused. He also wasn’t the one to diagnose me with hashimotos. I had to pay out of pocket to get proper testing. I do have medicaid…

    I went to another doctor who listened to my symptoms and guess what? Unfortunately, I was right… the test came back positive.

    He tried to insist my symptoms were mental.. now I am going to file a complaint against their license.

    However, this article is correct that an angiogram could cause stroke. An Xray however has minimal damage. Be safe rather than sorry. Further more don’t be lazy or cheap.

    It’s been seven years since I started getting sick. I’m 21 and feel 80.

    I now have other issues controlling my bladder, diagnosed parasthesia, numbness, and myalgia. I am on the verge of getting a diaper.

    All because one nincompoop and a shady specialist refused to actually check my symptoms.

    • Paul m

      That’s terrible feel for you hope you feel better soon

  9. Steve

    So because Sam the executive had a stroke while enduring a stress test, someone with the ability to pay should not have potentially critical testing done? Um, maybe if the doctor had done some testing prior to the stress testing, the stroke may have been averted.
    1. ADMA/SDMA biomarker test.
    2. TMAO biomarker test.
    3. OmegaCheck™
    And then there is the blood testing in order to predict the likelihood of a stroke…..But you would refuse to run those tests too, I guess. It might overload the lab, or take up too much of the doctors time, and throw him off his forced 8 minute office visits.
    Lipid tests, CRP tests, etc.
    You don’t have a leg to stand on.
    I would bet that you are a strong proponent of the 8 minute (doctor-patient) office visit too. Likely touting that it frees up “wait time”. A quality doctor-patient encounter does not occur in 8 minutes (8 min.TOTAL ; 4 min. with the patient, and 4 minutes typing in the patients file), and yet that is precisely what the industry is pushing-forcing. This was announced at our doctors seminar, recently. Would you like for me to reveal more of the insider secrets? Keep pushing your agenda and I certainly will. I can because my education is paid for.

  10. Paul m

    Okay I agree in principle but after 13 weeks of anti inflammatory and physio exercises shouldn’t I be getting better with my back

  11. Lora Scelsi

    Join the club. Its called money. Unless you have really great insurance or you a six figure you can kiss getting any sort of x-ray or scan goodby. All most doctors do these days is give opioids perscriptions for pain. Insurance will mostly deny claims for X-RAY. Unless your terminal sadly no test.

  12. Claudia Estrada

    I went to chiropractor for 7 months and he Cracked my neck xtremely hard with out joint poping that hurt me so much and since then I feel my thrachea came out that I can’t eat hotdogs or even rice and my voice was different and When I laught I feel something painful in my throat. Also pain when chewing food. Also feel to much pressure under my chin and feel my voice changes sometimes.

    My neck hurts , my collard of my throat hurts , my shoulders and the center of my throat and I feel a bone out in my left side of my neck near my ears . Everything happens after chiropractors neck adjustment.

  13. Claudia Estrada

    Also after neck adjustment I have problems swalling saliva because then my throat hurts and I hear a click every time I swallow .

    When I sleep at night I wake up because I can’t swallow saliva. I feel I can’t find my throat in order to swallow and I feel like chocking.

  14. Steve Brunton

    This sounds like someone trying hard to support government policy and take some pressure off doctors. Of course there can be complications with any medical procedure, but they are not likely for something like an MRI or x-ray. But it is the discussion of these tests causing worries that most frustrates me. The author does not seem to realize that ignorance can cause worries too. Having a doctor say “it’s probably this” and “just wait and see” can be extraordinarily stressful. I am having strange pains — sometimes very painful acute ones that cause me to jerk –, numbness, tingling, pins-and-needles in my hands, arms, shoulders mid-back, and sometimes legs. My physiotherapist (very experienced, and one that teaches at a university) would like to see a couple of x-rays but my g.p. will not authorize them. That causes me a lot more worry than the chance that they will see something else that they’re not looking for.

  15. Tina

    I had bad back pain after picking up a heavy parcel at work. The pain became so severe I was transported to the hospital via ambulance. The emergency room doctor gave me 8 pills for the pain in 30 minutes. When the pills finally kicked in, he said due to the cause of my injury, there was nothing really wrong with me. He prescribed 2 days of pain meds and sent me home. I spent the following week in the worst pain of my life (and I’ve had 3 children without drugs). I had asked him for an xray or some sort of scan but he refused. Over the next 5 months, I asked 3 more doctors for an xray or scan. Each one said I didn’t need one. A year has passed which I have spent in and out of a wheelchair. Today I went to a new chiropractor who had an xray machine in his office. The xray showed I have a seriously bulged and (possibly herniated) disc. I’m hoping my new family doctor will agree to an MRI to see how bad the damage is. People often know when something’s not right with their body. I agree to trying anti-inflammatory meds and ice and time but 5+ doctors and months of begging is not proper medical treatment. How much pain could I have avoided if I had just received an MRI weeks (not 1.5 years) after my original injury?

    • Lois Henkin

      I am having the same problem. I have been to 3 doctors already and they won’t give me an MRI. My injury happened 6 months ago. My neck is very painful. I was even taken to Emergency 2months ago with severe pain in my neck, but I can’t get that MRI. It is very frustrating. Who are these doctors that they feel they have the right to refuse a test that can save me a lifetime if pain. I am calling the medical board next.

  16. Sean


    Ive been having back issues for years. Several ER trips when i was younger too.

    Im a little overweight, but not obese. Ive tried stretches, excercises, etc. Hell i even tried yoga.

    Ive experienced numbness in my feet and hands if i turn a certain way. My father has minor scoleosis. As did his father, and grandfather. MS is rampant on my mothers side.

    Doc continues to pass it off as i just need to lose 20 lbs.

    Yeah. Okay.

    • John

      Read about losing weight would help you. I’ve been told same thing for 32 yrs.
      Had another health issue and lost close to hundred pounds my numbness and weakness has gotten worse. Only lost weight because of a hernia with small bowel in it. Had for 4 years and they knew it then and won’t fix it either.

  17. Tina

    After feeling a pop in my back while lifting boxes, the next 18 months consisted of canes, wheelchairs, loss of work, 2 ambulance rides, hundreds of dollars in chiropractor bills, tons of drugs that make me sick, and undescribable pain that is worse that childbirth. (I know. I had three kids without medication). The pain mostly stays in my lower back but sometimes travels down my leg. Despite all this, I still haven’t had an MRI because no doctor will sign off on one. How long and how bad does it need to be before someone will help me?

    • Jasmine

      You should look into doing an MRI at an actual place that specializes in MRI’s. You have to pay out of pocket, but with all the time you have missed from work, chiropractor visits and doctor visits, I am sure it will be worth it. You should consider a stand-up MRI. I guess it depend which state you reside in. In my state, there are many locations where you can walk in and get this procedure done with a doctor signing off on it.

  18. ki

    Your choice of Martin and his story are rather dismal and not even close to the normal in fact they are extremely rare. Throwing out a random fact without collaboration is negligent and I will not recommend this site or article to anyone ever.

  19. Jeff

    What would have been the doctors reason for denying my grandfather a CT scan? when he was having a lot of signs of a hemorrhage in his brain and asked for a scan but she refused and ignored his complaints. He’s completely paralyzed and unconscious now, on hospice care

  20. Wayne Villette

    Complete rubbish I have had back ache every day for 26 yrs every time I went drs scan won’t show nothing so after yrs of me saying one day I won’t be able to get up or out of bed and will cost more as I will need to call emergency services well that time has now come ,I spent thousands on chiropractic sessions, osteopaths, acupuncture so now it’s most likely to late I finally have a scan date why are drs so blind it’s not just another back ache it’s a human in pain I have three children I never got the chance to pick up and hold so please don’t talk rubbish It’s all about budget I am pretty sure a lot of cancers would of been spotted earlier enough to save life if we didn’t have such so so professionals shaking their heads talking scans won’t show nothing complete nonsense .

  21. Desiree'

    With all due respect, I feel as though you are completely wrong. I’m deeply sorry for what happened to Sam but how many times have Doctors felt as though testing could wait and something tragic happened? People know their own body and how they feel and a Doctor needs to listen more. 9 out of 10 people aren’t hypochondriacs. They listen to their body and want to feel good or at least normal. That is our right. They should learn to listen. Order the “right” testing instead of several un-needed tests that “then” add stress,waste time, space and money.

  22. Someone Unknown

    Right. But what do you do if you have periodic altered sensation in your left leg and sometimes even slight difficulty finely co-ordinating it – or at least it felt like it – and even a smal sense of weakness? What if you can often feel slightly cold sensations down your lowest part of the back, legs and feet? Feel the difference when walking? What if you are more perceptive and can literally SUBCONSCIOUSLY FEEL that something is not right with your nerves? But despite that, the doctor STILL isnt hearing you and simply prescribing you anti-inflamatories? What do you do then? Cause im pissed off. Did some basic exam and all was fine, but I bloody know how my body feels properly and how it feels when I have a problem. I need a scan to be certain, and theyre not giving that to me.

  23. Leslie

    Sorry, but this is absolute crap. I had to live with my severe back pain for years because no one would test me or take me seriously. Someone finally did when the pain got unbearable. I have arthritis and a bulging disc. Tell me again how back pain shouldn’t be tested?

  24. xavier

    that reasoning sucks, things shouldn’t have to progress to the point where a scan is direly needed.

  25. John

    Don’t agree with this article due to the fact that doctors don’t hear all of the problems said.
    Within the first 10 to 15 seconds of saying what is going on the doctor is already thinking of what it could be. For me for the past 32 years have been chasing my back pain.
    With my accident history and countless MRI’s and ct’s of upper and lower back with no relief.
    My pain is getting worse to where I can’t hold my grandson. So why would the past 30 plus doctors still refuse to x xray or MRI the thoracic area? Had 5 doctors refuse to.
    Accidents: falling from heights of 2nd storey window 3x, ran over by 73 Plymouth satellite, those are the painful accidents.

    • Louise collet

      Hi john, can’t you go to emergency and tell them you fallen. They will have to X-ray you

  26. Michael K

    My doctor did not send me for imaging tests for my plank pain even though I suggested. I ended up going to emergency for sudden pain a month later and all the specialists and nurses who saw me immediately knew I needed to get imaging tests done and have emergency surgery. If the doctor checked me out properly and I had the one imaging test to begin with I probably wouldn’t have had to go through so many other tests (ultrasound, ct, mri) in a period of one week. I would push the doctor to get the x-ray to make sure everything is okay. It’s better to know now than finding out unexpectedly if there is something, if there is something wrong.

  27. Louise

    I have osteoporosis kyphosis and scoliosis. I’m 48 yrs old. I was sent for mri and osteoporosis test . I have eggsgersted kyphosis. DDD. I also have a lump growing on my back that itches and feels like bugs crawling. Vice had. Cercixal cancer and skin cancer. My dr says she’s done all she can. If I find out it’s cancer through another dr I will make her life s living hell

  28. Shona

    It’s been over 3 years of pain. My back pain only gets worse. I’ve had loss of bowel control. The pain moves all over my low back, which leaves me with the conclusion that it’s spinal problems. Both of my other sisters have had back surgery. My one sister was ordered an urgent surgery as her doctor doesn’t think her back will hold out much longer. I can’t even get an MRI even though I have all the same symptoms. It’s a crapshoot, what kind of doctor you willl get in bc. That complicated by the majority of them not accepting new patients. I feel no hope.

  29. Bill Kiefer

    I couldn’t disagree more. If someone is having chronic, ongoing back pain, an x-ray certainly is warranted. If that doesn’t determine the source of the pain, then an MRI should be done.
    As far as finding other issues when using certain scans, that’s a good thing.
    The OP needs to find another physician.

  30. Russell

    This article is a disgrace to the public.
    You do not know if the back complaint will get better with time.
    Until you have an X Ray, you cannot diagnose unless you are a mystic!!
    Shame on you for demeaning a patients health for the sake of saving money and lowering waiting times.
    You are using scare tactics that if they have an X Ray they might die of something worse, are you serious?
    You should lose your licence and articles like this should be checked by a competent medical practitioner.
    Your reasoning has nothing whatsoever to do with the patients health, purely money.
    You are a disgrace.

  31. Unknown

    This is ridiculous if I’m a patient and I’m telling you I have pain and I ask for a test that’s never been done I should be able to get that done! So just forget me and my pain and let me suffer? Not fair! Ain’t no testing or hospital that busy, it’s not fair I’m paying you to figure it out it’s not like it’s coming out of your pockets. By the time you decide to do the darn test it’s to late and the damage is already done now it’s ops I l’ll have to treat you for this that and the other when all could of this could of been avoided had the doctor just listened!!

  32. JOHN

    sounds like bullshit, I HAVE HAD MY LOWER BACK PAIN SEVEN YEARS, NURSE, doesnt think I NEED TO KNOW WHATS WRONG WITH ME, NO X-RAY. Found my own bone crusher,pay alot of deductables for adjustments,done with doctors and nurses, my insurance and I pay for a doctor but all I see is a NURSE PRACTITIONER, MORE BULLSHIT.

    • JJ

      Spinal arthritis in lower back and hips,feeling it in shoulder and collar bone,nerves related to back,chiropractor has his own thermal imaging machine, shows i’m screwed up, nurse want me to go to physical therapy,told her sure, when I can walk from the parking lot of your office door without a cane.

  33. Dean

    I’m on the same boat, I’ve been having pains in my external occipital protuberance and I feel like it moves positions whenever it wants, sometimes it’s very prominent and other times it’s like a flat surface, my doc put this down to psoriasis but there isn’t even psoriasis in that area!

  34. Up yours

    This is bullshit. Stupid Gate Keepers!!! They just figure you’ll return if it gets worse, more money for them. Disgusting

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