Research Shows Physical Therapy Should be the First Stop for People with Back Pain

If you have back pain your first stop doctor is a physical therapy one. Most people who end up seeing a physical therapist for back pain do so after seeing their family doctor, getting an x-ray or MRI, and maybe seeing an orthopedist. Current research says that this is the wrong order and that people should start with seeing a physical therapist first when suffering from back pain.  Studies have shown that people who receive early PT have better outcomes, lower costs, are less likely to have surgery, to use opioids or have unnecessary testing.

Current clinical practice guidelines for treating low back pain support the use of manual therapy and exercise – two things that physical therapists are experts in. Unfortunately, only 2% of people with back pain start with PT, and only 7% get to PT within 90 days.  What’s wrong with the other options? Stories about the opioid epidemic that the country is currently experiencing are everywhere, and the number one reason for opioids to be
prescribed is back pain. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended against the use of opioids for back pain since 2016 and supports the use of Physical Therapy as a non-drug effective treatment.

Surgeries for back pain are common, but the outcomes are terrible. A large study looking at worker’s comp patients with back pain found that people who have surgery have a 1 in 4 chance of having a repeat surgery, a 1 in 3 chance of a major complication, and a 1 in 3 chance of never returning to work again.

Despite the data showing that PT is the most effective, safest, and lowest cost option to treat low back pain, most people take far too long to get there. So even if you choose to see your primary physician for back pain, and PT isn’t one of the first treatment options, ask for it!

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