Statistic Spotlight: Lower Healthcare Costs for Acute LBP When Physical Therapy Treatment is Immediate

A recent assessment evaluated the impact of receiving physical therapy and the timing of physical therapy initiation on downstream health care utilization and costs among patients with acute low back pain (LBP).

Nearly 1 of 55 patients with LBP are referred for physical therapy by physicians. The study took patients who had a new onset of LBP between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2013, in New York State and grouped them into different cohorts based on whether they received physical therapy and the timing of physical therapy initiation over the course of 1 year.

The results found that among 46,914 patients with acute LBP, 40,246 patients did not receive physical therapy and 6,668 patients received physical therapy initiated at different times. After examining these findings, researchers found that health care utilization and cost measures were the lowest among patients that did not receive physical therapy followed by patients that received immediate physical therapy treatment (within 3 days).

The conclusion? When a referral for physical therapy is warranted for patients with acute LBP, immediate referral and initiation (within 3 days) may lead to lower health care utilization and LBP-related costs.

Liu, et al. “Immediate Physical Therapy Initiation in Patients With Acute Low Back Pain Is Associated With a Reduction in Downstream Health Care Utilization and Costs | Physical Therapy | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 16 Apr. 2018,

Statistics Spotlight: Physical Therapy Reduces Costs

For patients with a new episode of lower back pain, studies show a clinical pathway that begins with physical therapy rather than MRI reduces first-year treatment costs by 72%.

According to a study published in the journal Health Services Research, initial treatment costs for patients with low back pain were 50% lower when the primary care consultation was followed by a physical therapy referral rather than an advanced imaging referral. In fact, over time, using physical therapy as a first management strategy actually resulted in 72% fewer costs within the first year.

The patients who received physical therapy first were less likely to receive surgery and injections, and they made fewer specialists and emergency department visits within a year of primary consultation.

The authors suggest that advanced imaging may heighten patient and provider concern leading to a push for additional care, whereas physical therapy empowers patients to actively self-manage their condition.

Fritz JM, Brennan GP, Hunger SJ. Physical Therapy or Advanced Imaging as First Management Strategy Following a New Consultation for Low Back Pain in Primary Care: Associations with Future Health Care Utilization and Charges. Health Serv Res. 2015 Mar 16. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.12301.