Going through physical therapy (PT) after spine surgery or as part of an attempt to manage chronic pain is fairly common and often helpful for patients. Recent research suggests exploring PT options earlier may be even more beneficial, especially for people with lower back pain (LBP). Professional Los Angeles spine surgeons share a closer look at the findings of this research along with some of the compelling reasons to take advantage of a physical therapy program proactively or as your first attempt at diagnosis, treatment, and pain management.
Less Reliance on Prescription Opioids
Researchers looked at more than 100,000 insurance claims to evaluate how patients with spine-related conditions were treated. They discovered that people with LBP who opted for PT as their first attempt at treatment had a nearly 90 percent probability of needing fewer prescription opioid medications. Patients seeking early PT intervention were also 15 percent less likely to need to visit an ER because of their LBP.
These findings are also significant because of the growing concern about the risk of addiction with prolonged opioid use, primarily because of the possibility of building up a tolerance to these drugs over time. There was an increase in hospitalization among LBP patients seeking early PT treatment. However, researchers believe this was because those individuals likely had underlying musculoskeletal issues that couldn’t be corrected with PT modalities (specific techniques).
More Flexibility with PT Choices
Starting PT for LBP early could also mean more flexibility with your choices for physical therapy. This is because chronic LBP (lasting 3-6 months or more) is more likely to have affected the nervous system more significantly than it would for recent pain. Having a broad range of PT methods to choose from could also make it easier to find therapeutic techniques that are more in line with your preferences and preferred comfort level. PT options include:
- Water-based therapy
- Ultrasound for treatment purposes
- Dry or moist heat techniques
- Massage therapy
- Cold applications
- Purpose-specific exercises (e.g. muscle strengthening exercises, range of motion/flexibility exercises)
- Recommended home-based exercises you can do on your own time
- Mindfulness interventions to change your perception of your LBP and ease your stress as you go through a PT program
Reduced Medical Costs
Researchers associated with the study pointed out that patients going to a physical therapist first had much lower out-of-pocket costs than those who had PT at a later point. To enjoy the possible benefits associated with early PT intervention, researchers have suggested:
- Urging state policymakers to change regulations that may limit direct access to physical therapists
- Educating patients to let them know this option is available for their consideration
- Urging insurance providers to remove barriers that may deter some patients from seeking PT care without a doctor referral
Individuals in all states have the right to seek some degree of care from a physical therapist without a physician referral. Most PT facilities perform thorough diagnostic evaluations when putting together a customized treatment plan. Your physician can offer some additional insights about your history with LBP, and you may also have fewer issues with your insurance provider if your doctor is involved.
Whether they’re having a fusion procedure or Coflex back surgery, Los Angeles patients may want to consider physical therapy after their surgery. At The Spine Institute, we’ll provide you with all of the necessary tools to manage a successful recovery. Schedule an appointment today by calling 310-828-7757.