May 26, 2020
Because of the closures of physician's offices, stoppages of elective surgeries, and social distancing guidelines resulting from COVID-19, many people with pain or joint issues have had appointments or surgeries delayed. If you're one of them and you haven't seen your PT yet, you should. Here are some reasons why:
Early PT leads to better outcomes
Studies have shown that people who receive PT sooner have better outcomes, lower costs, are less likely to have surgery, use opioids or have unnecessary testing. Because back pain is so common, there is a lot of outcome data from people with back pain. A study of 150,000 insurance claims published in Health Services Research, found that those who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89 percent lower probability of receiving an opioid prescription, a 28 percent lower probability of having advanced imaging services, and a 15 percent lower probability of an emergency department visit. Unfortunately, only 2% of people with back pain start with PT, and only 7% get to PT within 90 days.
Early PT saves money
The rising cost of healthcare is well known and early PT is something that has been shown to reduce costs without reducing the effectiveness of treatment. A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy showed that patients who obtained physical therapy via direct access had significantly lower medical costs—an average of $1,543 less per patient than those who chose referral from a physician. They also had significantly fewer visits and spent significantly fewer days in care.
Surgery may not be as effective as you think
Many patients look to surgery as the fix for their pain, but surgeries aren't always as effective as patients believe. A large study looking at worker’s comp patients with back pain found that people who have surgery have a 1 in 4 chance of having a repeat surgery, a 1 in 3 chance of a major complication, and a 1 in 3 chance of never returning to work again. Recent large studies of arthroscopic surgeries for meniscal tears have shown no difference in outcomes between people who have surgery and those who don't. Other procedures with questionable effectiveness include kyphoplasty, vertebroplasty, and injections for nonspecific back pain.
So, if you were planning on seeing your PCP or a specialist for an orthopedic condition or pain and you haven't seen a PT yet, you should consider making PT your first stop. You could end up getting better faster for less money and you might avoid riskier treatments like opioids or surgery.