Physical Therapy as the First Point of Care has Been Shown to Reduce Health Care Costs and Opioid Usage

A new study has shown that using physical therapy as the first point of care for patients with low back pain reduces overall health care costs and opioid usage.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 80% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime being the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days1. In addition to being a common ailment, low back pain is among the most common disorders associated with prescribed opioid use in primary care2. According to the new study, when patients turn to physical therapy as the first point of care, they enjoy the benefits of lower health care spending and opioid usage in relation to treating their back pain.

The study, published by Health Services Research, compared the differences in opioid prescription, health care utilization, and costs among patients with low back pain who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care, at any time during the episode, or not at all. The patients were between the ages of 18-64 years old with a new primary diagnosis of low back pain and were observed over a one year period.

The main findings of the report detailed that patients who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89.4% lower probability of having an opioid prescription, 27.9% lower probability of having any advanced imaging services, and 14.7% lower probability of ER visits, as well as significantly lower out-of-pocket costs compared to patients who saw a physical therapist late or not at all3.

The findings of this study emphasize the world of benefits physical therapy offers patients – most importantly – lasting relief from addressing musculoskeletal issues appropriately. Additionally, patients avoid opioid usage by getting to the root of the problem to provide real relief. Lastly, patients may face lower out-of-pocket costs and avoid undergoing costly diagnostic imaging procedures.

If you are suffering from a new diagnosis of low back pain or have been battling chronic low back pain, now is the time to realize the benefits of a comprehensive physical therapy program. Let Monmouth Pain and Rehabilitation be your first point of care for treating your low back pain. Together, we will help lower your overall health care costs by avoiding opioid prescriptions, advanced imaging services, and ER visits that may arise due to the development low back pain complications.

  1. Ashworth, J., Green, D. J., Dunn, K. M., & Jordan, K. P. (2013). Opioid use among low back pain patients in primary care: Is opioid prescription associated with disability at 6-month follow-up? Pain, 154(7), 1038–1044. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2013.03.011 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4250559/
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2017) Back Pain Fact Sheet. NINDS. NIH Publication No. 1505161. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet
  3. Frogner, B. K., Harwood, K., Andilla, C. H. A., Schwartz, M., & Pines, J. (2018) Physical Therapy As the First Point of Care to Treat Low Back Pain: An Instrumental Variables Approach to Estimate Impact on Opioid Prescription, Health Care Utilization, and Costs. Health Services Research https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.12984
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