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Low Back Pain: Why You Should Get Physical Therapy First

Over any 3-month period, about 25% of Americans will have low back pain. In most cases, it is mild and disappears on its own. But sometimes the pain lingers, returns, or worsens, leading to a decrease in function and quality of life.

In an era when back pain is often over-treated, due in part to unhelpful imaging scans(like x-rays) that may lead to unnecessary surgery, narcotics, and higher costs, physical therapy is a proven and cost-effective treatment option that you should consider as a first choice.

Studies show that early physical therapy for low back pain significantly lowers the total scope and cost of care.

Here's why you should consider getting physical therapy first:

Back Pain Often Leads to Missed Work and Overly Expensive Treatment

  • According to the most recent news release (December 2014) Employee Cost Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 200,000 incidents related to back injury were reported in 2013, causing an average of 7 days of missed work.
  • Direct costs to treat back problems totaled $30.3 billion in 2007. Of that, $4.5 billion was spent on prescription medications. The average expenditure per person for treatment was $1,589, and $446 for prescription medications.

Physical Therapy Is An Effective, Cheaper First Choice

  • Scientific research overwhelmingly points to the effectiveness of conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, for low back pain. Despite this, and published guidelines suggesting conservative treatment as the best first option, physicians still often order imaging scans (like x-rays), prescribe narcotics, and refer patients to other physicians, including surgeons.
  • September 2013 study found that there was no significant difference in outcomes between patients who chose spinal fusion surgery, as compared to those who chose the nonoperative treatment (physical therapy).
  • An award winning 2015 study demonstrated substantial potential for lowered costs and reduced health care utilization for patients who received, and adhered to, early physical therapy for low back pain.

Patient Feedback

"I don't know how long my career would have been [without physical therapy]. I don't want to think about it."

LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis, whose career was almost cut short due to back problems.

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