4 trends in back pain patient referrals to physical therapy

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |

A new study published in Spine examines the physical therapy referral trends for back pain patients over the past decade.

The study authors examined primary care physician referral rates to physical therapy for back pain patients using the National Ambulatory and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys between 1997 and 2010. The patients were age 16 years to 90 years old. The researchers found:


1. There were around 170 million visits to primary care physicians for low back pain; the visits lead to 17.1 million physical therapy referrals, according to the report.


2. During the study period, the primary care referrals to physical therapy were stable at around 10.1 percent. Over the same time period, there were an increasing number of visits associated with opioid prescriptions.


3. Medicare and Medicaid patients were associated with lower physical therapy referrals.


4. The visits when patients weren't referred to physical therapy were more likely to include opioid prescriptions.


"Although therapies delivered by PTs are promoted as the first-line treatment for LBP, PT referral rates remain low," the study authors concluded. "There also exist disparately lower referral rates in populations with more restrictive health plans and simultaneous opioid prescription."


More articles on back pain:
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