Treatment for Low Back Pain Can be Costly

by Chris Kaczmarek, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS

Low back pain (LBP) affects at least 80% of us at some time in our lives according to the American Spinal Decompression Association. Treatment for low back pain accounts for nearly 3% of all physician appointments in the US. Duke Medical Center researchers found that patients suffering from back pain consume more than $90 billion annually in health-care expenses, with approximately $26 billion of that amount directly attributable to treating the back pain.

“To say treatment of low back pain is costly is an understatement,” said KORT Physical Therapist Dr. Chris Kaczmarek PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS. “That’s why it is so important for patients to get the right care as quickly as possible. Not only will this save them money, but the sooner their pain is treated the more quickly they can return to their daily lives.”

Delayed Treatment Means Pain in Back and Wallet According to Kaczmarek, the traditional wait and see approach by patients has become more common due to rising healthcare costs and health insurance changes.

“As healthcare costs in the form of co-payments and deductibles rise, more patients are delaying treatment in the hopes things will improve on their own. However, this approach actually costs patients and insurance companies more in the long run. In addition, to the added costs, the recurrence rate for untreated, first-time low back pain may be as high as 80%,” said Kaczmarek.

Untreated recurrence of back pain is often more painful and harder to treat since the issue was not correctly addressed the first time around, said Kaczmarek. The longer a patient waits to seek care, the more challenging their condition becomes, the higher cost and greater likelihood it will develop into a chronic condition, according to Kaczmarek.

“In light of the best available research, the timing and type of intervention are critical to outcome and overall cost. Someone experiencing a bout of acute low back pain should seek out intervention within 14 days of experiencing symptoms,” said Kaczmarek. “This is true of most injuries as well. Seeking care as soon as possible after injury is always the best course.”

A 2012 study by Fritz and associates of 30,070 patients with the complaint of low back pain found that early treatment saved patients and insurance companies $2,736.23 in total healthcare costs versus patients who delayed treatment by 15 or more days following symptoms.

Another study by Gelhorn and associates found that patients receiving immediate physical therapy care after an acute bout of low back pain ultimately had fewer corticosteroid injections, diagnostic imaging, and overall number of physician visits--resulting in less overall cost to the patient.

Advancements in Treatment of Low Back Pain Low back pain is one of the more frequently studied musculoskeletal conditions, said Kaczmarek. More recent literature suggests that a strong treatment plan based on a manual “hand-on” approach in conjunction with properly classified exercise program has yielded better results and longer lasting benefits than the standard medical care delivered in the past.

“The days of passive treatments where the patient lay down and used hot and cold compresses as the primary course of treatment are over. Our bodies are made to move and be active. A treatment program that restores movement and function to the back offers the best outcome for patients,” said Kaczmarek. “I’ve worked with patients in clinical care for more than 15 years, and have seen the way we treat low back pain change. The results we get now from manual therapy administered early are far better than in the past.”

Most health insurance plans now allow patients to seek physical therapy treatment directly without a physician referral.