More workers with lower back pain receive physical therapy to treat their work injuries, and that the treatment leads to a shorter duration of disability and lower medical costs, according to a study released Tuesday by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.
Researchers at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based WCRI examined 26,000 workers with low back pain and more than seven days of lost time in 27 states between October 1, 2015 and March 31, 2017. The study showed that medical costs for low back pain workers who began physical therapy within three days after injury was almost a quarter lower than for workers who did not begin physical therapy for more than 30 days after injury.
Researchers found that workers who started physical therapy more than 30 days after their injury had 58% longer temporary disabilities than those who began treatment within three days. Workers who did not receive PT for more than 30 days after their injury were also 46% more likely to receive an opioid, 47% more likely to receive MRI, 29% more likely to receive pain relief injections, and 89% more likely to have low back surgery. than those who had PT within three days. However, less than 1
The study also showed that the legal involvement of lawyers was 27% for workers who did not receive PT for more than 30 years. days after injury compared to an average of 14% for those who received PT early.
Although the study found a strong link between early PT and lower medical costs and shorter disabilities, the researchers noted that "association is not a causal relationship" and that other factors, such as severity injury, comorbidities, timing of first medical visits and employee behaviors may also affect the timing of physiotherapy and workers' results.