If you have low back pain, you are far from alone. It’s one of the most common diagnoses we see in our clinics. At any given time, approximately 25 percent of people in the United States report facing debilitating low back pain within the past three months. It is estimated that across the world, back pain will affect approximately 80 percent of people at least once in their lifetime. It is the single biggest cause of work-related disability for people younger than 45, the most common reason for doctor visits, and one of the most common reasons for missing work.
It’s also expensive. Back and neck pain makes up the biggest healthcare expense in the U.S., totaling $134 billion spent in 2016. The next two most expensive conditions were diabetes — $111 billion — and ischemic heart disease at $89 billion.
Unlike diabetes and heart disease, back pain typically does not require long-term medication, usually doesn’t require surgery, and doesn’t present risk of death. So, why is it so expensive?
Primarily, it’s because it is so common. But it is also because the traditional medical model for treating low back pain falls short.
Pathways for managing back pain
While research shows that non-drug treatment plans, specifically physical therapy, should be the first recommendation for back pain, unfortunately many providers continue to lead patients down a path that may include medication, imaging and a referral to a specialist before they circle around to recommending PT. In fact, only 2 percent of people start with PT for low back pain, and only 7 percent get to PT within 90 days of the onset of pain.
The resulting delay impedes the proven benefit of beginning physical therapy within 14 days of the initial onset of low back pain.
Data collected from multiple large studies proves that when treatment for back pain starts with PT, patients get better faster, have better results and medical bills are reduced dramatically.
In 2006, Virginia Mason Health Center in Seattle teamed up with Aetna and Starbucks to send workers with back pain to see both a physical therapist and physician for their first treatment. Use of MRI dropped by one-third, and people got better faster, missed less work and were more satisfied with their care.
Improving access to PT for back pain
TRICARE, one of the nation’s largest insurers, recognizes physical therapy as a “high value treatment,” and wants to improve their members’ access to and use of PT for back pain. The insurer has rolled out a new pilot program that waives copays for their members’ first three PT visits. The theory is that once a person experiences some benefit from PT treatment, they’re likely to go back for more, so eliminating the barrier that high co-pays seem to present should lead to increased attendance to PT appointments.
The fact that a major insurer stands behind the value of PT is great news for everyone. If TRICARE can show that lowering the cost of PT for patients can improve outcomes and save insurance companies money, other major insurers will likely follow. This could improve the lives of millions of people every year while reducing the huge cost of treating low back pain for the country. That seems like a win for everyone involved.
Your path to recovery
At Therapeutic Associates, our physical therapists are experts in the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal issues, which includes impairments due to low back pain. We understand that low back pain can have many different causes and we provide each patient with a plan of care that is unique to their individual situation and goals.
If you’re experiencing low back pain, don’t wait. Schedule an evaluation today. We’re here for you!
Start your journey to pain-free living today.
Our experts are committed to providing effective, efficient, and compassionate care to help you live a pain-free, active life. Our passion is to help every patient reach their goals on their journey to recovery and optimal performance.