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Seeing a physical therapist first can lead to better results

Some patients may put off going to physical therapy for any number of reasons, sometimes for an extended amount of time. Individuals might believe that their condition will improve on its own, that treatment is too expensive for their budget, or they may not be aware that physical therapy is even an option at first. Whatever the reasoning behind it, delaying physical therapy is actually quite common, but those who wait are missing out on unlocking the full potential of its benefits. These examples should make it clear that physical therapy is a great overall choice for injuries and painful conditions, but when you see a physical therapist is another important factor that can affect what happens next.

For any type of pain or physical limitation, consulting a physical therapist first means that patients will be getting started on their path to recovery right away. As a result, these patients have generally been found to have better outcomes and a lower chance of needing other interventions compared to patients who either don’t undergo physical therapy or delay starting it. For patients that initiate physical therapy early these benefits are even greater. What follows is a selection of studies that display how seeing a physical therapist as soon as possible can lead to lower costs and better results in the long run:

The Effect of Timing of Physical Therapy for Acute Low Back Pain on Health Services Utilization: A Systematic Review (2019)

  • How the study was conducted: this study was a systematic review, which collects and analyzes the findings of several studies on the same topic; in this case, 11 studies were evaluated that investigated the association of early physical therapy and the use of healthcare services compared to delayed therapy or usual care
  • What the results showed: early physical therapy was found to improve healthcare efficiency and reduce the overall use of healthcare services and opioids, as well as the overall costs of treatment

The Influence of Patient Choice of First Provider on Costs and Outcomes: Analysis From a Physical Therapy Patient Registry (2018)

  • How the study was conducted: researchers evaluated the medical records of 603 patients with neck and back pain to costs and patient outcomes between those who accessed physical therapy directly and those who were referred by another medical professional
  • What the results showed: all patients improved in pain and disability, but patients who saw a physical therapist directly displayed significantly lower costs than those who were referred through a traditional model of care

Timing of physical therapy consultation on 1-year healthcare utilization and costs in patients seeking care for neck pain: a retrospective cohort (2018)

  • How the study was conducted: researchers divided 308 patients with neck pain into different groups depending on when they consulted a physical therapist, with an early consultation being within 14 days, a delayed consultation being within 15-90 days, and a late consultation being within 91-364 days
  • What the results showed: early physical therapy was also associated with an average savings of $2,172 on healthcare costs over one year compared to late physical therapy, as well as a lower risk for patients being prescribed opioids, having a spinal injection, or undergoing an imaging test

If you’re dealing with any sort of pain and have been thinking about seeing a physical therapist, now is a great time of the year to do so in order to get the most out of your healthcare plan. As the year winds down, we strongly recommend reviewing your health insurance policy and checking on your benefit status. If you’ve already met your deductible or out-of-pocket maximum for 2019, you will likely have a lower co-pay or possibly no co-pay on your physical therapy visits for the rest of the year, before your deductible renews on January 1, 2020.

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