Active Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain Associated With Better Outcomes

active physical therapyA recent study published in Spine shows that active physical therapy for patients with acute low back pain is associated with better clinical outcomes. APTA concurs on decreased use of prescription medications, MRI, and epidural injections; and lower health care costs than passive physical therapy.

The study consisted of a retrospective review of 471 patients, ages 18-60. One hundred thirty-two patients received active physical therapy and 339 received nonadherent care. Patients receiving active physical therapy experienced greater improvement in function and a decrease in pain intensity, received fewer physical therapy visits, had a shorter duration of care, incurred lower charges for physical therapist care, and were more likely to experience a successful physical therapy outcome.

For pain of a “mechanical” origin such as low back pain, hands-on therapy to mobilize the spine and exercises designed to alleviate low back pain have been shown to be particularly effective and have long-lasting effects on patients. According to the study’s lead author Julie Fritz, PT, PhD, ATC, “Physical therapists are often one of the first health care providers that patients with acute low back pain encounter — whether they are referred by medical doctors or visit them directly — which offers evidenced-based PTs a tremendous opportunity to help patients recover.” Fritz received funding for her research from the Foundation for Physical Therapy in 2002. Her project was titled “Validation of a Clinical Prediction Rule for Identifying Patients with Low Back Pain Likely to Respond to a Manipulation Technique: A Randomized Trial.”

“The findings from this research can be applied throughout all fields of medicine, not just to physical therapy,” said Gerard Brennan, PT, PhD, a lead researcher on the study. “If all physicians and therapists adhere to their field’s recommended clinical practice guidelines, they, too, should see a decrease in subsequent health care utilization. It is our hope that this research will help physical therapists — as well as all medical professionals — do their job more effectively.”