Low back pain is rarely caused by something serious. Instead, most low back pain is caused by strain on muscles and ligaments. This type of low back pain is very common and usually gets better within a few days to a few weeks. Most people with low back pain don't need to see their doctor, get imaging tests, or visit a specialist. It's also rare for people with low back pain to need surgery.
While your back is healing, there are some simple things you can do to help relieve the pain:
X-rays and CT scans expose your body to radiation. Over time, repeated exposure to radiation may increase your chance of getting cancer. Having an X-ray series of your lower back gives you about as much radiation exposure as 65 chest X-rays. Having a CT scan of your lower back gives you about as much radiation exposure as 165 chest X-rays. Since MRIs use magnets rather than X-rays, there is no risk from radiation. However, having metal objects or implants in your body (such as pacemakers, artificial joints, screws, stents, plates or staples) can be a serious risk and interfere with the test.
When low back pain is caused by strain on muscles and ligaments an imaging test usually can't tell the specific cause of the pain. Strain on muscles and ligaments doesn't show up on these tests.
Medical research shows that people with low back pain who get imaging tests do not recover any better or faster than those who do not receive them.
Many things that show up on imaging tests are not serious and may not be the cause of your pain. However, once these things have been seen on a scan, there is a tendency to want to do something about it. Often, this results in more tests or procedures that can be harmful, such as back surgery.