Are you in the 7 percent of backs?

Recently, I read something very concerning in the news.  There are many concerning things in the news these days, but this was about Back Pain.  It was a study looking at how many of those with back pain are referred to Physical Therapy when they visit their Primary Care Physician.

When I read the title of the article, I though for sure it was a good percentage, and that the majority were being referred.  Imagine my shock when I saw it was 7%!!  Sure, I am a little biased in what I do for a living, but 7%???  That is crazy!

Here is why I think it should be much, MUCH, higher!

First, here are a few statistics from the NIH on Back Pain that may put it in perspective:

  • 80% of us will experience back pain at some time in our lives.
  • Low back pain is the leading cause for work related disability
  • One Quarter of people (25%!!) report having back pain in the past 3 months.
  • The majority of low back pain is mechanical and not from serious medical conditions.
  • Back pain is ranked as the 3rd Highest burden to health
  • $87.6 Billion is spent on back and neck pain in the US each year.

Back pain has a HUGE impact in our society.  With such a large impact, what are we doing to address it.  With only 7% of back pain being referred to a Physical Therapist, it looks like we are not doing a whole lot to actually fix the problem.

If only 7% get referred to a PT, where are the rest going?  I don’t have statistics or research to back this up, but I think we can assume they are prescribed medications, told to rest, sent for expensive imaging, referred to specialists who then do imaging, or are not treated and told to wait it out.  Seems like pretty crappy standard of care to me.

Here are the reasons I think we should be seeing more in Physical Therapy!

  1. Most Back Pain is of mechanical origins. 

    This means that the pain in the back is associated with some structure (ligament, muscle, joint, disc, etc) being irritated with movement. It is not an infection or a serious medical problem in most cases. This is good news because we can actually do many things to address the mechanical problem.  This not only helps the pain go down, but it is the key to making the pain NOT COME BACK!!!Using pills, injections, and imaging as treatment really does not address the underlying mechanical problem.

  2. Cost of treatment is lower with Physical Therapy 

    All those pills, x-rays and MRIs really add up. If you are referred to a specialist, it even goes higher.  Now, I am not saying those things aren’t necessary in some cases, but the majority of cases do not need imaging or referral to a spine specialist.If you address the underlying issue, then that also saves you financially in the future so that back pain doesn’t become chronic.

  3. Physical Therapy keeps you activeOne of the worst things you can do with back pain is lay in bed and wait for it to go away. Our bodies like to move, and when we are sedentary our muscles weaken, things get tight, and our overall health suffers.This is especially important for keeping people on the job, but also is important to keep us doing activities we love.

    An active approach to recovery results in better outcomes and less chronic back pain in the future.

  4. Early Intervention improves outcomes 

    Research shows the sooner we can get someone with back pain into the clinic, the faster and more fully they recover. Getting someone in the clinic within 14 days of onset, and ideally within 3 days of onset results in significantly improved outcomes.If back pain is lingering, don’t wait!The longer you wait, the weaker you get, and the more tightness and muscle guarding we see.  It is much easier to prevent that from happening then deal with it months down the road.

There are so many other reasons I am a fan of treating back pain with Physical Therapy, but I will get off my soapbox for now.

The way our society has been treating back pain is not working!  We can see this by the above statistics, and the impact on our economy and lives.  Even just looking at the Opioid Crisis we are in with addiction and over-prescribing, makes me think there is an urgent need for change.

Sometimes I think we are looking for some magic cure for back pain instead of looking at something that has been tested and tried time and time again….and found to be effective.

There truly is no substitute for exercise, a good diet, and a healthy lifestyle.  We can help with those things and get you back to living the life you want to live, without the need for expensive tests or being stuck on pain pills.

Contact me to find out more!


David Butler, Physical Therapist

Who We Help At Align Therapy

At Align Therapy, we understand that every single person’s problem is unique, which is why our first step is to get a deep understanding of what is happening to your body, and how it is effecting your life so we can create a plan that focuses on YOU and your goals.
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David Butler PT DPT

David Butler

Align Therapy

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