Physical therapy benefits low-back pain patients

Patients with low-back pain are better off seeing a physical therapist first, according to a study of 150,000 insurance claims.

The study, published in Health Services Research, found that those who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89 percent lower probability of receiving an opioid prescription, a 28 percent lower probability of having advanced imaging services, and a 15 percent lower probability of an emergency department visit — but a 19 percent higher probability of hospitalization.

The authors noted that a higher probability of hospitalization is not necessarily a bad outcome if physical therapists are appropriately referring patients to specialized care when low back pain does not resolve by addressing potential musculoskeletal causes first.

These patients also had significantly lower out-of-pocket costs.

“Given our findings in light of the national opioid crisis, state policymakers, insurers, and providers may want to review current policies and reduce barriers to early and frequent access to physical therapists as well as to educate patients about the potential benefits of seeing a physical therapist first,” said lead author Dr. Bianca Frogner, associate professor of family medicine and director of the University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies.

Frogner said individuals in all 50 states have the right to seek some level of care from a physical therapist without seeking a physician referral, however, many do not take advantage of this option. She said this may be because some insurance companies have further requirements for payment.

About 80 percent of adults experience back pain at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Currently, patients with low-back pain are given painkillers, x rays and, in some cases, told to rest, said Frogner. She said said seeing a physical therapist first and given exercise is a more evidence-based approach.

Using an insurance claims dataset provided by the Health Care Cost Institute, the researchers reviewed five years of data of patients newly diagnosed with low back pain who had received no treatment in the past six months. The claims were based in six states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

The research involved the UW School of Medicine in Seattle and The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“This study shows the importance of interprofessional collaboration when studying complex problems such as low-back pain. We found important relationships among physical therapy intervention, utilization, and cost of services and the effect on opioid prescriptions,” said Dr. Ken Harwood, lead investigator for The George Washington University.

Story Source: Read this article on Science Daily: University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine. “Early physical therapy benefits low-back pain patients: Analysis of 150k claims shows health, cost upsides.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180522225553.htm.

You Might Also Enjoy...

PRP: Is It Safe?

The goal of regenerative medicine is to tap the powerful resources already found within the human body. And this is certainly true of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. But is this approach to healing safe?

Am I a Candidate for Cortisone Injections?

If you’re among the millions of Americans who struggle with joint pain, cortisone injections hold the key to regaining pain-free movement. Here’s a look at this first-line treatment option and whether you’re a candidate.

Understanding Cervical Radiculopathy

When one of the nerves in your neck is compressed, not only can it cause local problems, but symptoms can radiate out toward your arms and hands as well. Called cervical radiculopathy, here’s a look at how the issue develops.

Help! I Hurt All Over!

Every day you get out of bed, hoping this will be the day that pain won’t get in your way. Yet, the pain persists. Here’s a look at the most common culprits when it comes to widespread pain, and what we can do about them.

5 Tips for Preventing Neck Pain

While many situations in life can be considered a pain in the neck, actual neck pain can limit your life in significant ways. Here are five tips that go a long way toward preventing and remedying neck pain.

Living Better With Arthritis

Arthritis, in all its many forms, can be a frustrating condition to live with — mostly because there’s no cure. That said, there are some effective ways for better managing joint disease, allowing you to remain healthy and active.