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Study links Early Physical Therapy to Lower Back Pain Treatment Costs

Physical TherapyLow back pain is a common complaint that affects most people of all age groups. In most cases, the condition is triggered by muscle or ligament strain, bad posture, a bulging or ruptured disk or skeletal irregularities. It can also occur due to an injury or disease such as sciatica, arthritis, frozen shoulder or whiplash injury. The main symptoms associated with pain in the lower back include muscle aches and stiffness, tingling or burning sensation, shooting or stabbing pain, and limited flexibility.

There are different treatment approaches for the condition and type of treatment would depend on the intensity of symptoms. Physical therapy (PT) is one of the most effective solutions for back pain, helping to strengthen spine, maintain flexibility, and ease inflammation and muscle tension. A new study reports that early and guideline adherent physical therapy following an initial episode of acute, non-specific low back pain resulted in substantially lower costs and reduced use of healthcare resources over a two year period.

Researchers analyzed about 122,723 patients who consulted a primary care physician due to an initial low back pain occurrence and received physical therapy within 90 days.. About 24% (17,175) received early PT (within 14 days) that followed guidelines for active treatment. All patients received PT within the Military Health System, one of the largest single payer health systems in the United States.

These participants made less use of advanced imaging, lumbar spine surgery and spinal injections and opioids than patients using other combinations. It was found that people who underwent early physical therapy also had 60% less costs related to back pain when compared to 33.5% (23,993) of patients who had delayed and adherent treatments (between 14 and 90 days).

The results of the study indicate that physical therapy interventions at the early stages of back pain have positive implications, improving the symptoms and lowering costs. PT treatment that adheres to practice guidelines even furthers than benefits, said one of the lead researchers.

In military and civilian settings, clinical guidelines recommend avoiding opioids and advanced imaging procedures as a first-line of treatment. However, studies related to civilian settings have shown that clinical practice does not adhere to these recommendations. The new study’s results add on to the findings from civilian settings by associating early guideline-adherent care, costs, and use of healthcare resources in a single-payer health system.

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