New Research Shows That the Type of Physical Therapy Care Provided For Low Back Pain May Impact Subsequent Health Care Costs
ALEXANDRIA, VA, August 12, 2008 — The American Physical Therapy
Association (APTA) concurs with findings from a recent study published
in Spine (Volume 33, Number 16) demonstrating that active
physical therapy for patients with acute low back pain is associated
with better clinical outcomes, decreased use of prescription
medications, MRI and epidural injections, and lower healthcare costs
than passive physical therapy.
For pain of a 'mechanical' origin such as low back pain, hands-on
therapy to mobilize the spine and exercises designed to alleviate low
back pain have been shown to be particularly effective and have
long-lasting effects on patients. According to the study's lead
researcher and APTA member Julie Fritz, PT, PhD, ATC, Clinical Outcomes
Research Scientist at Salt Lake City's Intermountain Healthcare and
associate professor at the University of Utah, "Physical therapists are
often one of the first health care providers that patients with acute
low back pain encounter - whether they are referred by medical doctors
or visit them directly - which offers evidenced-based PTs a tremendous
opportunity to help patients recover."
Physical therapist management is a low-cost, high-value alternative
to medication and surgery to deal with certain musculoskeletal pain.
According to Fritz, "Considering that low back pain will affect between
sixty and eighty percent of Americans during their lifetime, the
potential cost savings of an early, effective intervention to prevent
individuals from progressing to chronic disability may be
The study consisted of a retrospective review of 471 patients, ages
18-60. One hundred thirty-two patients (28 percent) received active
physical therapy (involving a high percentage of active exercise) and
339 (72 percent) received non-adherent care (defined as involving
greater than 25% passive treatments such as hot/cold treatment,
ultrasound, and electrical stimulation).
Patients receiving active physical therapy experienced greater
improvement in function, decrease in pain intensity, received fewer
physical therapy visits, had a shorter duration of care, incurred lower
charges for physical therapist care, and were more likely to experience
a successful physical therapy outcome. Among patients receiving
non-adherent or passive care, the rate of additional healthcare
utilization (including prescription medication, office or emergency room
visits, inpatient/surgical services, and diagnostic procedures) was 65.8
percent, compared with 55.3 percent among patients receiving adherent
"The findings from this research can be applied throughout all fields
of medicine, not just to physical therapy," said physical therapist and
APTA member Gerard Brennan, PT, PhD, Director of Clinical Quality and
Outcomes Research at Intermountain Healthcare, who was one of the lead
researchers on the study. "If all physicians and therapists adhere to
their field's recommended clinical practice guidelines, they, too,
should see a decrease in subsequent health care utilization. It is our
hope that this research will help physical therapists - as well as all
medical professionals - do their job more effectively," he added.
Fritz received funding for her research from the Foundation for
Physical Therapy in 2002.
Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and
manage individuals of all ages who have medical problems or other
health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform
functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine
each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to
promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent
disability. Physical therapists also work with individuals to prevent
the loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented
programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
The American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org) is a
national organization representing physical therapists, physical
therapist assistants, and students nationwide. Its goal is to foster
advancements in physical therapist education, practice, and research.
Consumers can visit www.findapt.us to find a physical therapist in their
area, as well as www.moveforwardpt.com for physical therapy news and