By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, DPT, OCS
Did you know that seeing a physical therapist first, before any other healthcare provider, to treat your low back pain can actually save you money over the course of a year?1,2 One of the professors from my Doctorate of Physical Therapy alma mater, Dr. Julie Fritz, PT, PhD, FAPTA, has recently spearheaded a piece of research that advocates for seeing a physical therapist in regards to low back pain. She and two other researchers focused their efforts on looking at privately insured individuals that had low back pain and, more specifically, how the effect of the first-seen provider for their problem affected the healthcare costs and procedures over the following year.1,2 They studied the insurance claims of approximately 750 patients who sought out medical care from a whole host of providers for their low back pain, such as primary care providers, chiropractors, an emergency department, physiatrists, other specialists such as rheumatologists, and physical therapists.1,2 As you can tell by that list of various providers, there are many different routes that are taken to get appropriate healthcare if you are having an episode of low back pain, and many people are often confused as to whom would be the best person to see first in this case. The researchers hoped to gain information from this study in order to help guide and streamline the process of what provider to see first when you have low back pain in order to get better faster by way of having less procedures and spending less money overall.1,2
The results of the study showed that seeing a physical therapist first paid off in the long run.1,2 The patients who accessed physical therapy directly in the case of their low back pain ended up having fewer x-rays and MRIs, fewer emergency room visits, fewer spinal injections, and fewer surgeries compared to those patients who sought care from a different provider initially.1,2 When looking at overall costs over a year associated with treating low back pain, patients who consulted a PT first had the second lowest costs, only just behind those patients who consulted a chiropractor for their initial care.1,2 Overall, the costs for the year were significantly lower than those of patients who ended up seeing a physiatrist first.1,2 This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be helpful at all to see a physiatrist or other specialist when dealing with low back pain, but if you see a physical therapist first they will be more likely to help conservatively via evidenced-based care and manual treatment, and will be able to send you in the direction of a specialist if warranted. This is especially important to know and get the word out about, considering that in this study only 6.4% of the patients studied were those who went directly to a physical therapist to start improving their low back pain.1,2
So, what’s the take home message here? If you have low back pain, it will save you more money and you will undergo fewer procedures, such as imaging and injections, if you go directly to a physical therapist for treatment versus another provider.1,2
For your physical therapy needs regarding low back pain or any other pain you may be dealing with, call us today to schedule an initial evaluation with a physical therapist. Not sure if you will benefit from PT? You can also call to schedule a free, 15-minute injury screen to learn more about your options.
1. American Physical Therapy Association. Study: Seeing a PT First for LBP Decreases 1-Year Utilization Rates Among Privately Insured. PT in Motion. https://www.apta.org/PTinMotion/News/2015/10/13/LBPPTFirst/ . October 13, 2015. Accessed November 1, 2015.
2. Fritz, JM. Kim J. Dorius J. Importance of the type of provider seen to begin health care for a new episode low back pain: associations with future utilizations and costs. J Eval Clin Pract. 2015 Sept 29.