Seeing A Physical Therapist Early Can Help With Long-Term Success

In our last three post, we’ve looked into the most common causes of low back pain and offered some tips on what to do if and when it strikes. Taking these steps and making other smart lifestyle changes–like moving more, sitting less, and improving your posture and sleeping habits–undoubtedly has the potential to significantly reduce low back pain levels. But even after making all the right changes, back pain will continue to be a problem for many patients.

For these individuals, a much more systematic and comprehensive treatment approach is needed that addresses the impairments present, and there is no other option that fits this bill quite like physical therapy. Physical therapy is predicated on first identifying any limitations or dysfunctions that can be contributing to a patient’s pain, and then developing a customized treatment plan to targets these faults with a series of movement–based interventions. While individual goals may vary from patient to patient, the overall goals of physical therapy are always to reduce pain levels, increase physical function, and prevent further recurrence of pain.

Physical therapy is associated with a host of benefits that will save patients time and money while putting them on a path to positive long–term outcomes, and the earlier a patient sees a therapist, the greater the benefits will be. To give you a clearer idea of what physical therapy can do for your low back pain, here are four of its most notable evidence–based advantages over other approaches to treatment:

The top 4 benefits of early physical therapy for low back pain

  1. Reduces the need for additional care
    • Many patients with low back pain see their primary care physician as their first point of contact with the healthcare system because it’s usually the easiest approach, but doing so can actually lead to delays in receiving appropriate treatments
    • By seeing a physical therapist first, on the other hand, patients can start their treatment program right away, which will usually include various strengthening and stretching exercises, manual (hands–on) therapy techniques, and other pain–relieving interventions; according to one study, early physical therapy reduces the need for additional treatments in the future, and the earliest initiation of therapy was found to be associated with the lowest need other interventions
  2. Leads to similar outcomes compared to surgery and helps patients avoid it
    • Due to the high costs, various risks, and extensive recovery period, surgery should only be considered as a last resort for most cases of low back pain, after all other options have been exhausted; still, some patients will choose to undergo surgery much earlier, either because they have abnormal MRI findings, want a “quick fix,” or for other reasons
    • But research has shown that physical therapy can lead to outcomes that are just as good as surgery; in one study of patients with spinal stenosis who were candidates for surgery, no differences in painful symptoms or physical function were identified in patients who underwent surgery compared to those who followed a course of physical therapy
    • Research has also shown that early physical therapy can help patients avoid surgery
  3. Helps patients avoid opioids
    • Opioids are powerful pain–relieving medications that should prescribed with extreme caution in only rare cases of low back pain–if at all–due to the high associated risks for abuse, dependence, and overuse
    • By seeing a physical therapist early, patients can significantly reduce the likelihood of being prescribed opioids in the future; according to one study, patients who consulted with a physical therapist earlier in the course of their care had lower rates of opioid prescriptions compared to those who saw a physical therapist late or never
  4. Results in lower overall costs
    • For patients with low back pain, getting treatment right away, undergoing fewer additional tests and treatments, and avoiding surgery and opioids also equates to lower overall healthcare costs
    • Many studies have shown the cost savings associated with early physical therapy are substantial, with one study finding that costs for those who started physical therapy within three days of being diagnosed with low back pain were just under $3,000 over one year, while for those who waited 29–90 days to do so, costs were more than double, at nearly $6,400

With such a clear set of benefits, it’s easy to see why physical therapy is regarded as the safest and most logical choice for low back pain. So if you’re dealing with any persistent or chronic pain, we strongly recommend making an appointment with your local physical therapist to get started on a path to less pain, better function, and greater enjoyment of the things you love.