Cost Effectiveness of Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain

Low back pain continues to affect many Americans leading to pain, loss of function, missed work days, and higher health care expenditures.  Much of this cost is attributed to the often unnecessary utilization of advanced imaging and procedures such as injections and surgery.  Previous research has shown early access to Physical Therapy without a prior MD referral saves patients on average $1000 per episode of care.  Further cost savings are noted if patients are treated early with Physical Therapy compared to national guidelines advocating a "wait and see" approach for care prior to deciding on Physical Therapy.  

A recent study was conducted to determine the cost effectiveness of primary care management with or without the use of early Physical Therapy for patients with acute low back pain (Fritz et al. Physical Therapy. 2016).  Economic data was collected on 220 patients with acute low back pain who were all treated with primary care management (education, medication) and then randomized to either 4 sessions of early Physical Therapy or primary care management alone.  The authors collected costs (health care treatments, loss time at work) associated with this episode of back pain.  The authors concluded that Physical Therapy was associated with higher quality of life scores at 1 year and was sufficiently cost effective to support its' early use for patients with acute low back pain.

Patients with low back pain are encouraged to seek out the services of a local Physical Therapist to reduce health care costs and improve symptoms and function compared to primary care management alone.