Summary: The incidence of low back pain is increasing due to the aging population in the US. One of the ways to help those living with low back pain (LBP) is by providing physical therapy (PT). However, there has been controversy regarding when to introduce PT. A retrospective study of about a million US adults diagnosed with LPB shows that early PT introduction is associated with better outcomes, fewer clinic visits, and lesser healthcare expenses.
Most adults would experience low back pain in their lives. For many, the condition may become chronic. And, thus for some adults, managing low back pain may transform into a lifelong struggle.
For those living with chronic low back pain, it means frequent visits to the doctors and higher healthcare expenses compared to those who do not have low back pain.
Moreover, managing low back pain remains relatively challenging. It means that those living with the condition often visit different specialists like physicians, pain specialists, orthopedists, chiropractors, and so on. All this means much distress and higher expenses.
Though the benefits of PT (physical therapy) in low back pain are well known, such interventions are often avoid in the early phase. This is because doctors fear that providing PT in the early stage may make things worse. In addition, there is a risk that PT may do more damage to the already weak and damaged spine.
However, now some researchers have started questioning this approach. They think that perhaps the acute phase of low back pain is the right time to provide PT. They believe that delays in PT mean lower effectiveness and slow recovery. It also means that the condition is more likely to become chronic in most cases.
To understand if early PT introduction is associated with better outcomes, researchers in the US carried out a retrospective study. The study analyzed the data of almost a million adults aged 18 to 64 years who reported low back pain (LBP) between 2010 and 2014. In the study, they identified that out of these adults, about 11% received early PT.
In the study, researchers found that early PT was good in every way. Thus, it resulted in much better clinical outcomes and fewer visits to pain specialists, emergency departments, imaging centers, orthopedists, and more. In most cases, it resulted in 50% fewer visits to various doctors. These benefits are significant.
Fewer visits to doctors and clinics naturally mean lower healthcare costs. The study found that those with early PT had fewer procedures, resulting in much savings.
Researchers found that lower visits to doctors and saving in healthcare costs were significant and seen both in the short and long term. Thus, researchers analyzed that those with early PT had lower healthcare costs at 30 days and after one year of the diagnosis.
This massive study puts an end to all the controversies regarding early PT in LBP. It clearly shows that early PT is the best way forward.
The US population is aging, and issues like low back pain are only expect to increase. Moreover, the incidence of metabolic disorders is also rising. More people are now living with obesity and have a sedentary lifestyle. It means that the incidence of low back pain is expect to skyrocket.
All this means that the healthcare system should be better prepared to help those living with low back pain. Findings in this study show that early PT can make a significant difference. Moreover, PT is not just good for low back pain. It may also help improve metabolic health.
Therefore, researchers now strongly recommend starting PT early in those newly diagnosed with LBP.
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