Physical Therapy First for Low Back Pain Lowers Cost

The cost of treatment for patients with low back pain (LBP) has a major economic impact worldwide. According to a 2006 review1, total costs associated with LBP in the United States exceed $100 billion per year, two-thirds of which are a result of lost wages and reduced productivity. Recent studies over health care cost indicate that the management of LBP with physical therapy can result in lower costs and use of health care resources.2 More specifically, studies show that initial referrals to physical therapy resulted in less than half the cost of imaging (MRI, usually about $1000) and generated lower costs associated with use of health care resources over time.

The authors noted that advanced imaging often 'labels' a patient's LBP that might otherwise be viewed as uncomplicated, causing heightened concern in some patients and providers, motivating them to seek additional care (opiod medications, spinal injections, surgery etc). Authors said that physical therapy may provide patients with an active approach to LBP, enhancing patients’ perceived ability to self-manage their condition. If you have low back pain, you should consider physical therapy as a starting point for care. There is growing evidence that early physical therapy results in lower health care costs for treatment and able to initiate an active home program to assist patients return back to recreational or usual activity. Most insurance companies honor “direct access” where you can seek physical therapy care without the need for a prescription from your physician.

  1. Katz JN. Lumbar disc disorders and low-back pain: socioeconomic factors and consequences [review]. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006;88(suppl 2): 21-24.2. Fritz JM Brennan GP, Hunter SJ. Physical Therapy or Advanced Imaging as First Management Strategy Following a New Consultation for Low Back Pain in Primary Care: Associations with Future Health Care Utilization and Charges. Health Serv Res. 2015 Dec;50(6):1927-40.