New research shows that the type of physical therapy care provided for low back pain may impact subsequent health care costs.

A new study published in the journal Spine showed Medicare patients who received physical therapy in the acute phase following an episode of low back pain were less likely to receive epidural steroid injections, lumbar surgery, or frequent physician office visits in the year following their initial physician visit as compared with patients who received physical therapist treatment later.

Researchers examined a nationally representative, 20% sample of physician outpatient billing claims from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The 431,195 enrollees were categorized into acute (having received physical therapy in less than 4 weeks after an episode); sub-acute (having received physical therapy between 4 weeks and 3 months after an episode), and chronic (receiving physical therapy between 3 and 12 months after an episode) treatment groups. There was also a category of patients who did not receive physical therapist treatment.

Researchers also found that patients who were initially evaluated by a generalist specialist (internal medicine, family practice, emergency medicine, and general practice) were least likely to receive physical therapy within a year as compared with patients who were evaluated by physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation), whose patients were most likely to receive physical therapy in the acute phase and also within 1 year of their initial evaluation.

The most common condition experienced by the patients was nonspecific backache (63.6%), followed by sciatica (14.5%), degenerative disc disease (10.5%), and spinal stenosis (6.2%).

The results of this study are promising for our elderly population suffering from low back pain. Statistically, back pain will be experienced by approximately 50-80% of the adult population at some point(s) in life.  Hands-on manual physical therapy can help alleviate back pain by mobilizing the spine and specific exercises that can have long-term effects.  With the rising cost of healthcare for consumers, in terms of copays and deductibles, it’s important to see a physical therapist sooner, rather than later.  Wait-and-see can lead to more physical therapy sessions, more invasive treatments, and higher out-of-pocket costs.  To learn more about how we can help you at Reddy-Care Physical Therapy, give us a call at 516-829-0030.


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