Results of a small study of patients with recent onset low back pain (LBP) suggest that only modest benefits can be expected from the engagement of early physical therapy. The findings lend support to existing guidelines that advise primary care clinicians to delay referral of patients presenting with low back pain to physical therapy or other specialists in favor of watchful waiting for spontaneous recovery. The study was led by Julie M. Fritz, PhD, PT, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and appears in the October 13 edition of JAMA.
Research suggests that LBP can account for some 2% to 5% of physician visits and that it is experienced by up to 70% of patients in their lifetime. In the current study, designed to assess the potential benefits of early physical therapy, 220 patients with recent-onset LBP were randomly assigned to receive early PT sessions or no additional intervention. 1 year follow up was conducted on 207 participants. The researchers found only modest differences in pain intensity or disability and no differences in healthcare utilization between the groups.
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Read a news story about the study findings here.
The journal abstract may be read here.