Skip to main content

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, physical therapy 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.

You do not need a physician's 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

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. 

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

Is this content helpful?

Thanks for the feedback!

Thank you. Your feedback has been sent.

"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.

You Might Also Like...

Health Tips

How Medicare Determines Payment For Therapy in Nursing Homes or Home Health Care

Apr 18, 2024

If you receive physical or other therapy services through a nursing home or home health agency, you should know your rights. You also should know about

Health Tips

10 Habits for Better Sleep

Apr 18, 2024

Managing your sleep is key to your overall health. Not getting enough sleep can be a problem and can contribute to the development of chronic pain. It

Health Tips

5 Things to Ease Your Hospital Stay

Apr 15, 2024

Hospital stays for sickness or injury can be overwhelming, emotionally and physically.