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why you should see a PT for low back pain

Why You Should Choose PT First for Low Back Pain

by Andrew C. Thomas PT, DPT, OCS, TPS, CSCS, COMT, CEEAA, FAAOMPT1 Comment

Low back pain is a common disorder that affects 84% of adults at some point in their lives. The good news about this is that most back pain gets better without needing imaging (Xrays, MRIs). In most cases, imaging is an unnecessary intervention, particularly in the first six weeks, that costs a significant amount of money to patients. One study found no long-term difference between patients who underwent surgery and those who only did conservative management (therapy) for sciatica. Also, it was found that low back fusion surgery was not more effective than conservative management (therapy) when treating chronic low back pain in patients with lumbar spine pathologies and leads to greater long-term complications such as instability above and below the level of fusion.

Why Physical Therapy First?

As first-line providers and musculoskeletal experts, physical therapists are an excellent first stop when you start having low back pain or when you have been dealing with pain for a long time. Many states have direct access laws, which allow a patient to be seen without a prescription or without requiring a visit to a physician. Patients who saw a physical therapist first were 89.7% times less likely to have an opioid prescription, 27.9% times less likely for imaging, 14.7% less likely to go to an emergency department, and 19.3% less likely to be hospitalized4. This leads to significantly less cost to the patient and less unnecessary medical testing/interventions.

What happens when I go to physical therapy for my back pain?

The first step is making the call to see a physical therapist. In most cases, we can get you in to see us within 48 hours of your initial call to get you started on the road to recovery sooner. Physical therapists are movement system experts, and we will begin by taking time with you to understand your condition, your pain experience, and how it impacts your life. Physical therapists understand movement better than any other medical profession. After going through this, we will examine how you move, test your strength, how your joints move, and how the tissue of your back feels. We will help figure out what impairments we find as impairments correlate to symptoms much stronger than imaging. With this information, we will work with you, the patient, to figure out your goals are and establish a plan together to get you back to doing what you want to do. The benefit of physical therapy is that you get to spend 60 minutes with your therapist to get a plan to feel better faster.

Click here to know more about how imaging correlates to back pain.

Do you have pain related to the low back?

Athletico has clinicians who specialize in the treatment of the spine and have undergone training to facilitate better results! Call your local Athletico and schedule a free assessment with a physical therapist first to feel better faster! Ask for a spine specialist!

Request a Free Assessment

*Per federal guidelines, beneficiaries of plans such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, VHA and other federally funded plans are not eligible for free assessments.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Fourney DR, Andersson G, Arnold PM, et al. Chronic low back pain: a heterogeneous condition with challenges for an evidence-based approach. Spine . 2011;36(21 Suppl):S1-S9.
2. Oliveira CB, Maher CG, Pinto RZ, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the management of non-specific low back pain in primary care: an updated overview. Eur Spine J. 2018;27(11):2791-2803.
3. Saltychev M, Eskola M, Laimi K. Lumbar fusion compared with conservative treatment in patients with chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis. Int J Rehabil Res. 2014;37(1):2-8.
4. Frogner BK, Harwood K, Andrilla CH, Schwartz M, Pines JM. Physical therapy as the first point of care to treat low back pain: An instrumental variables approach to estimate impact on opioid prescription, health care utilization, and costs. Health Services Research. 2018;53(6):4629-4646. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.12984

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Andrew Thomas was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

Read more health resources related to these topics:

Back PainChoose PTPhysical Therapyback pain tipslow back pain

1 Comment

  1. David Marsh

    Great Post! Selecting physical therapy as the initial approach for managing low back pain aligns with principles of patient-centered, evidence-based, and conservative care. It emphasizes active participation, addresses the root causes, and promotes long-term well-being. Individuals experiencing low back pain should consult with healthcare professionals, including physical therapists, to determine the most appropriate course of action based on their specific conditions.

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