A study from the University of Washington and George Washington University was published in May 2018 in the journal Health Services Research regarding the value of physical therapy to patients with low back pain.
This study looked at more than 150,000 insurance claims made over a five-year period with a new diagnosis for the patient of low back pain. They sought out those claims where people received physical therapy care prior to seeing the primary care physician or a specialist. They then compared the claims to those of other patients with low back pain, but who saw their family doctor first and then either did or did not have physical therapy thereafter.
The researchers wanted to see if they could better understand whether or not early intervention of physical therapy would be helpful in terms of reducing later care including more expensive types of care such as diagnostic imaging testing as well as use of opioids and urgent care or emergency room visits.
The study found that early PT resulted in 89 percent lower probability of eventually needing an opioid prescription, a 28 percent lower probability of having any advanced imaging services, and a 15 percent lower probability of making one or more ER visits.
The study authors believed that perhaps the training and better understanding of their bodies and how to properly handle their injuries resulted in not only a quicker recovery but also avoided set backs that could result in the more costly recoveries.
Interestingly however, the study also found that there was a 19% increase in eventual hospitalization among those persons who received PT first. While no conclusive understanding of why this occurred came about, the authors believe that these cases may represent those patients whose back pain came about by culture of a co-morbid type of medical conditions such as being very overweight or having diabetes.