Low back pain patients who underwent early physical therapy reportedly had better outcomes than those who did not. Early physical therapy was also more cost-effective, according to researchers.

In the study, published recently in the journal Spine, researchers studied the effect of early physical therapy on 220 patients with low back pain, with respect to both outcomes and costs.

All of the patients visited a primary care provider between March 2011 and November 2013. In addition, they all were between 18 and 60 years of age, had a current low back pain episode of less than 16 days’ duration, their pain did not move below the knee, and they showed no clinical signs of nerve root compression.

Of the 220 patients, 108 received four sessions of physical therapy over 4 weeks once the study began, and 112 performed physical activity and waited 4 weeks before given the option of physical therapy treatment.

All the patients completed self-reports at the onset of the study, and after 4 weeks, 3 months, and 1 year, according to a media release from Medical News Bulletin.

To determine cost-effectiveness, the authors calculated both total costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). Total costs comprised both direct (eg, physical therapy, medication) and indirect costs (i.e., costs due to lost work and lost productivity).  The factors used to calculate QALY was based on scoring of the following five factors: mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain or discomfort, and anxiety or depression.

The overall result was that the patients who underwent early physical therapy did better than those who did not, with the former group reporting greater quality of life after 1 year.  Accordingly, these patients also had higher direct healthcare costs.  However, the incremental cost-effectiveness for this group was below the typical willingness-to-pay threshold, and so early physical therapy was found to be cost-effective in the treatment of low back pain, the release explains.

The study authors note that the specific physical therapy protocol used on the patient may affect their results. In addition, they note that some observations were missing, that the use of self-reporting may have created bias. They state also that the healthcare costs used in the study were based on local pricing, and may not apply to all regions.

[Source: Medical News Bulletin]