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A wealth of research has shown that physical therapy is an effective treatment for acute low back pain. A new study offers yet another reason to choose or recommend physical therapy early to manage acute low back pain over usual primary care — the overall value it delivers.

Acute low back pain can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. It also is a leading cause of missed work and work limitations. Although many cases of acute low back pain resolve on their own, 1 in 3 people will still have symptoms a year later. Usual care, which includes advice to stay active, modified work, and over-the-counter pain medicines, falls short for one-third of those who experience acute low back pain.

Choosing physical therapy early outperforms usual primary care for treating acute low back pain. In addition to saving health care dollars, it helps to:

  • Reduce the risks of taking prescribed opioids.
  • Increase overall strength for a return to usual activity.
  • Deliver valuable patient education on how to take care of the back.
  • Increase awareness about how to prevent a recurrence.

Learn more about physical therapist treatment in the Physical Therapy Guide to Low Back Pain.

Graphic illustration of the low back pain findings from the Economic Value of Physical Therapy Report

Researchers calculated the economic impact of choosing physical therapy for acute low back pain over usual care. They found that doing so saves $4,160, including all the hidden costs of your time, pain, missed life events, and the dollars paid for services. This graphic summarizes their analysis, outlined in an easy-to-read paper covering this and seven other conditions.

Health care dollars are finite. This research can help to influence policies that better enable patient access to treatment options. It also may lead to health plan coverage that is both clinically effective and value-based. Patients and the health care system benefit when our health care dollars go further.

Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You do not need a referral* to see a physical therapist in the United States. Visit Find a PT to search for a physical therapist in your area.

Find a PT Near You

*Your insurance policy, corporate policies, or state practice laws may still require a referral. Some states may limit the type or duration of treatment without a referral.


View additional Did You Know? articles on all eight conditions on our Value of Physical Therapy page.


Additional Resources

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"The Economic Value of Physical Therapy in the United States," a report from the American Physical Therapy Association.

Managing low back pain: exercise, manual therapy, and education. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2021;51(11):535. Article Summary in PubMed.

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