Early Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain Reduces Costs to Medicare

By Staff.

A new study on the cost of treatments for lower back pain showed that newly diagnosed patients with low back pain who received physical therapy as their first intervention had lower total Medicare costs and improved function compared to those who got injections or surgeries as their first intervention.

The independent analysis, conducted by health care research firm The Moran Company (TMC), assessed different initial interventions and associated costs for low back pain, within the Medicare program.

Those who received physical therapy first experienced a 19 percent reduction in Medicare fees compared to those who initially received injections; and approximately 75 percent less than those who received surgery first.  In addition, patients who opted for physical therapy within 15 days of being diagnosed, saw 27 percent lower average costs due to fewer required follow-on health care services such as injections and surgeries.

The also showed that in the year following the initial diagnosis, the people who had physical therapy first saved 18 percent more than those who received injections, and 54 percent more compared to patients who underwent surgeries.

“More than 80 percent of the U.S. adult population experiences low back pain,” said Troy Bage, Executive Director of APTQI.  “This research speaks loudly to the potentially significant cost savings and improved functional outcomes that early physical therapy can provide if implemented with the first 45 days after diagnosis.  Getting patients back into a productive daily routine at a lower cost is a win-win.”

The study was based on a comprehensive accounting of Medicare Parts A and B program spending for a population of patients based on the initial treatments received following low back pain diagnosis.  It used nationally representative Medicare claims datasets across multiple service sites, tabulations of total Medicare A/B spending on average for groups of patients with a low back pain diagnosis who received physical therapy or injections or surgeries first.

The study findings were announced by the Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation (APTQI), which is an association that promotes physical therapy services.