DOES IT PAY TO DELAY PHYSICAL THERAPY? STUDIES SAY ‘NO.’
Current studies show that beginning physical therapy promptly can reduce costs for patients with low back pain.
Have you ever painfully injured your lower back and then waited on calling for a referral to a physical therapist? Days go by, then weeks. What does this mean for you – and your care?
A May 2020 study in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation determined that people who get physical therapy early at the outset of their low back pain have much better results than those who wait. Other studies, such as a July 2020 article published in The Mental Health Clinician, show that early physical therapy improves disability, decreases pain levels, and reduces the need for medications.
Seeing a physical therapist first may reduce your total cost of care by as much as 50%
If you’re experiencing low back pain, often our first instinct is to make an appointment to visit your primary doctor, who might refer you to an orthopedic specialist, who may then write you a prescription for physical therapy. This process can take weeks- if not months- particularly with today’s Covid-era scheduling difficulties. In fact, a Merritt Hawkins study revealed that even before the Covid pandemic, the average wait time to see your physician was more than three weeks.
That process alone can set you back multiple insurance co-pays, not to mention several weeks of your life suffering with low back pain. Scheduling an appointment directly with a physical therapist saves money – appropriate physical therapy within 14 days of the onset of low back pain may minimize the average total cost of treatment by 50%.
Bottom line: physical therapy for low back pain can save you money.
Patients with low back pain who receive physical therapy immediately after their pain begins and adhere to their treatment plan spend an average of around $3,000 a year in associated medical treatment costs. Those who delay physical therapy treatment and/or don’t adhere to their treatment plan typically end up spending upwards of $6,000 per year on healthcare to address their condition. You read that right: DOUBLE.
Additionally, a Health Services Research study establishes that the average cost of care is almost $5,000 higher for patients that had an MRI first versus receiving treatment with a physical therapist at the outset. The study also demonstrates the higher number of other services like added diagnostic imaging and medications when an MRI is performed before physical therapy.
Why physical therapy?
Physical therapists are functional movement experts who improve the quality of patients’ lives through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. Enlisting a physical therapist early in the acute phase of pain or injury, often leads to the best results.
Here are a few great reasons to see a physical therapist early if you experience pain:
1) Heal safely – without fear of causing further low back pain or injury.
Pain might lead to you avoiding activities for fear of causing further damage. After a thorough initial evaluation, your physical therapist will create an individual plan of care based on your specific needs and goals to:
- Manage and improve your pain.
- Safely progress movement, function, and the quality of your life.
- Recover from an injury and prevent future damage.
- PTs regularly work with your health care team members to ensure the best possible care.
2) Remain physically active, avoiding the costs and potential risks of surgery and prescription opioids.
When our body suffers an injury, it enters protection mode. Generally, people with low back pain avoid moving altogether. But often, avoiding all activity can delay healing and possibly create new problems.
It’s important to keep moving – safely. A mobile lifestyle appropriate for your medical condition should help manage symptoms and decrease or eliminate pain. A physical therapist will help you:
- Discern and understand what is causing your low back pain.
- Set a realistic forecast for your recovery.
- Determine and prescribe exercises specific to your condition, needs, and goals.
3) Recover as quickly as possible.
Patients who seek care within two weeks of an injury or onset of pain often require less care. In addition to treating your low back pain, your PT can help you to understand your symptoms better and provide a plan for managing your pain and recovery as soon as your condition allows.
4) Avoid additional issues caused by any changes your body initiates to avoid low back pain.
If pain lingers, you may develop new movement patterns to avoid discomfort. As time passes, you risk developing more issues that would require additional time and effort to treat and/or reverse.
Enlisting a physical therapist at the onset of low back pain may prevent it from becoming chronic. Problems that can be expanded include:
- Rigidity and stiffness.
- Reduction of strength and stamina.
- Higher sensitivity to and increased occurrence of low back pain.
5) Achieve your activity and lifestyle goals.
Spinal mobility and movement are crucial to your health, quality of life, and continued independence. For a lot of people, low back pain makes action a challenge. Your physical therapist will review your goals and work with you to execute a plan to achieve them so you can return to the activities you love as quickly as possible.
Did you know that in Michigan you can see a physical therapist without seeing your doctor first?
In layman’s terms, the medical community determined that immediate access to PT is essential, and you don’t have to wait for a prescription or a referral from your doctor to seek and begin physical therapy. If your physical therapist determines that PT isn’t appropriate for your condition, they will offer a recommendation for the best course of action to get you feeling better right away.
If you experience an injury or develop low back pain, seeing a physical therapist early can help you address and manage your symptoms. If you’d like to know more about how substantial evidence supports PT as a beneficial course of action for low back pain, we’d be happy to talk with you!