Approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point throughout their life, and it is the most common cause of disability related to work (1).
Back pain costs Americans an average of $85-$230 billion per year, but those costs are reduced by an average 60% when patients are referred to physical therapy early in the plan of care (2).
One of the major contributes to the high cost of low back pain is advanced imaging such as MRI or CT scan. However, early advanced imaging is not associated with improved outcomes and may be unnecessary (2).
In fact, in a recent MRI study, 81% of patients had a disc bulge, but no pain associated with it (3).
Therefore, even if you have a disc bulge on an MRI, it does not necessarily mean that is the cause of pain. While an MRI may be required if significant neurologic compromise is suspected, it is often unnecessary for low back pain.
Physical therapists are trained in recognizing the signs of neurologic compromise and can
provide safe, cost-effective care at the onset of pain. Identifying additional factors that may be
contributing to low back pain are essential and often do not require advanced imaging. Additionally, you can be evaluated and treated by your physical therapist first without having to go your primary care physician. This can save time and money and begin treatment faster.
Ultimately, being seen by a physical therapist at the beginning of pain can be a safe way to save money for treating low back pain.