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Study Spotlight: Manual Therapy Outcomes for Workers with Non-Chronic LBP

Assessing injured workers quickly, starting physical therapy (PT) early and when appropriate, getting them manual therapy (MT) quickly will lead to better outcomes for injured workers.

Researchers have found that there are big benefits to starting PT early. In fact, fewer diagnostic tests, opioid prescriptions, pain management injections and lumbar surgeries ultimately lead to faster return to work and lower total medical costs of claims. This begs the question: Is there a specific PT treatment that further influences the utilization and costs of medical resources and outcomes?

All eyes are on MT, a hands-on therapy that improves range of motion and reduces pain. Many practitioners and managed care professionals have long believed that early MT could improve outcomes.

To help fill information gaps in medical and healthcare policy research regarding MT, the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) analyzed low back pain (LBP) claims in 28 states that did not have surgery and received MT. WCRI compared costs and outcomes between claims with early MT (within 14 days of the worker starting PT) and late MT, as well as claims with and without MT.

Researchers including a member of MedRisk’s International Scientific Advisory Board, Kathryn Mueller, MD, found that early MT was associated with lower utilization of medical services, lower medical and indemnity payments, and shorter temporary disability duration. In fact, the average medical cost per claim was 27 percent lower, the average indemnity payment was 28 percent lower and temporary disability duration was 22 percent shorter when workers received early MT compared with those receiving it later.

While this is the first of many investigations needed to assess the overall cost-effectiveness of MT, the study is a positive step towards more effective WC outcomes.

This also supports MedRisk’s PTConsult program, where a consulting therapist can help identify people who need MT and recommend they get it quickly. Through our extensive network, electronic data interfaces (EDI) and clinical expertise, we partner with clients to facilitate early PT and ensure optimal outcomes for workers.

To read the full study, click here.

Outcomes Associated with Manual Therapy for Workers with Non-Chronic Low Back Pain. Dongchun Wang, Kathryn Mueller, and Randy Lea. September 2021. WC-21-23.

We’re restoring movement, empowering recovery, and driving progress in workers’ compensation.

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