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Research Shows Physical Therapy Should be the First Stop for People with Back Pain

Summer is a time for re-birth out of our winter cocoons into the warmth of the sunshine to partake in our beloved outdoor activities and family events that can only happen during this special season.  If you have back pain, many of these activities can be challenging, resulting in time not spent with our loved ones.

Most people who end up seeing a physical therapist for back pain do so after seeing their family physician, getting an x-ray or MRI, and maybe seeing an orthopedist. Current research says that this is the wrong order and that people should be seeing a physical therapist first for back pain.

Studies have shown that people who receive early PT have better outcomes, lower costs, are less likely to have surgery, use opioids or have unnecessary testing. Current clinical practice guidelines for treating low back pain support the use of manual therapy and exercise - two things that physical therapists are experts in. Unfortunately, only 2% of people with back pain start with PT, and only 7% get to PT within 90 days.

What’s wrong with the other options? Stories about the opioid epidemic that the country is currently experiencing are everywhere, and the number one reason for opioids to be prescribed is back pain. The CDC has recommended against the use of opioids for back pain since 2016, and supports the use of non-drug treatments like PT. Surgeries for back pain are common, but the outcomes are terrible. A large study looking at worker’s comp patients with back pain found that people who have surgery have a 1 in 4 chance of having a repeat surgery, a 1 in 3 chance of a major complication, and a 1 in 3 chance of never returning to work again.

Despite the data showing that PT is the most effective, safest, and lowest cost option to treat low back pain, most people take far too long to get there. In all 50 states, including NY State, there is a form of Direct Access to PT and an MD's prescription is not necessary. Call a physical therapist today to get help with your back pain so you can get out there and enjoy your summer!


Dr. Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MS, OCS is a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic physical therapy & owner at Marko Physical Therapy, PLLC in NYC.

Dr. Marko specializes in general orthopedics, as well as adolescent injuries and pediatric issues. If you would like to reach out to her you can by email or phone.

Phone: 347.766.5979


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