Low back pain can be significantly debilitating and is one of the prevalent health concerns people face.
People spend a lot of money trying to find relief, making it one of the biggest contributors to healthcare spending in the United States.
However, much of this spending doesn’t contribute to long-term wellness, leaving people in continuous pain and discomfort.
Initial Approach to Treatment Matters
According to a study from the University of Pittsburgh published in the journal Physical Therapy, the initial approach to treating low back pain is crucial.
The study concluded that patients who first seek physical therapy or chiropractic care experience better outcomes and shorter episodes of pain compared to those who opt for other treatments.
The study analysed nearly 30,000 patient records from 2015 to 2018, mostly from Pennsylvania.
The team discovered significant differences in health care utilization, depending on where patients first sought care for acute back pain relief.
People who initially approached specialty care were in pain almost twice as long as those who first went to a physical therapist, chiropractor, or the emergency department.
Importantly, the total cost of care within the first year after an acute episode also differed according to the first point of entry into the healthcare system.
Those who initially sought care via the emergency department or surgery paid almost double compared to those who chose chiropractic care or physical therapy first.
The Concern with Opioids and the Need for Holistic Care
Many patients, especially those who first visit the emergency department, end up being prescribed opioid pain medications, contributing to the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Over half of such patients filled opioid prescriptions, compared to only 11% of those who chose physical therapy or chiropractic care first.
Christopher Bise, Ph.D., UPMC physical therapist and assistant professor at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, emphasized the importance of holistic wellness instead of just treating the pain.
He noted that the current model, which often involves opioids and injections, is merely a temporary fix and does not address the underlying issues causing the pain.
Focusing on Holistic and Collaborative Care
Recognizing the issues with current treatments, UPMC introduced the Program for Spine Health in 2019. This program focuses on providing a more holistic and collaborative form of care.
In addition to seeing physicians and physical therapists, patients in the program also have access to health coaches, dieticians, and pain psychologists.
This approach ensures that patients are treated without the need for surgical intervention, injections, or opioids, concentrating more on overall well-being and addressing the root causes of pain.
The Road Ahead
Christopher Standaert, M.D., director of the Program for Spine Health, highlighted the need for new models of spine care.
He mentioned that the current system often leaves patients going from one specialist to another, spending a lot of money but not experiencing any improvement.
This research underscores the importance of directing patients to the right providers who can resolve their episodes more effectively and quickly.
Bise raised important questions about the role of physical therapists as primary musculoskeletal providers and their integration into emergency departments to ensure that patients receive the right care from the beginning.
Low back pain remains a significant concern and burden for many, leading to extensive healthcare spending and prolonged suffering for patients.
The findings from the University of Pittsburgh study bring forth the crucial importance of initial care approaches and the urgency to prioritize holistic wellness over temporary relief methods.
Programs like UPMC’s Program for Spine Health are pivotal in reshaping care models, focusing on comprehensive well-being and addressing the root causes of pain, ensuring a healthier, more sustainable future for individuals struggling with low back pain.
If you care about pain, please read studies about how to manage your back pain, and exercise harder if you want to ward off pain due to aging.
For more information about pain, please see recent studies about how to live pain-free with arthritis, and results showing common native American plants may help reduce diarrhea and pain.
The research findings can be found in Physical Therapy.
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