Why You Want to See a Physical Therapist for Low Back Pain


For the past week, the pain and stiffness in your lower back has been unbearable. Daily activities like unloading the dishwasher, opening the car door, and taking the trash out are a struggle. Even sneezing is painful. You missed a day of work and your spouse has taken over all childcare duties. If you can relate to this scenario, then you probably think an MRI will give you the answers you’re looking for, right?

Actually, that’s not the case according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Imaging of the lower spine within the first six weeks doesn’t improve outcomes, but it does increase costs. A study that appeared in the scientific journal Health Services Research concluded that physical therapy costs far less than advanced imaging.

The study, led by researchers Julie M. Fritz, PT, PhD, FAPTA, Gerard P. Brennan, PT, PhD,
and Stephen J. Hunter, PT, PhD, OCS, focused on 841 individuals who consulted with a primary care provider about uncomplicated low back pain. Of those individuals, 385 were referred to advanced imaging, 377 were referred to physical therapy, and 79 received a physician specialist visit or other care, including chiropractic.

The average cost differences between the study groups were staggering. An average of 3.8 physical therapy cost about $504 while magnetic resonance imaging rang in at about $1,306. During the subsequent year, costs were 66% lower for the patients who began with a physical therapy referral. Patients in physical therapy spent about $1,871 on their care, whereas the individuals in the imaging cohort spent $6,664.

Physical therapy is not only the least expensive first step in the treatment of low back pain, but also the most effective. Following an evaluation, a physical therapist takes an active approach to low back pain which often gives the patient the skills needed to self-manage their condition. The physical therapist’s goals include decreasing pain, increasing function and teaching strategies to prevent future back problems.

Physical therapy helps patients get to the heart of what’s causing the back pain and gives them tools to succeed in the future. Patients who are referred to imaging first are more likely [than the physical therapy cohort] to pursue other options including surgery, injections, specialist consultations, and emergency department visits within a year. 

"A2 staff are friendly and informative. All my questions and concerns were addressed. I looked forward to my appointments because even if I didn’t see my progress, because it was so gradual, the staff here made sure to celebrate every move forward. I thought I’d always have a limp/never recover fully, but I was wrong!"

− Amanda

"William and I have been working out with Kristi on Saturday mornings for months now and we love it! We find the couples training so beautiful physically, mentally and relationally. Kristi not only challenges us with cardio and lifting but has introduced us to exercises that relate to balance and stretching. As we enter our 60’s we appreciate these balance routines and can see how it benefits our daily lives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard William say, “I am not doing that, that’s a girl exercise!” and then later he’ll say “wow that was harder than I thought” or sometime that week he’ll bring up an exercise we do on Saturday and how it benefited him that day! Most importantly we have blast encouraging each other, competing with each other and having fun! We appreciate A2 and Kristi for providing a space for us to stay fit and have fun. We wish you all much success! Thank you"

− Pam and William

"Physically and mentally as healthy as I can be is my goal. My father lived to 93 and fairly healthy physically and mentally. My mother is 96 years old and is failing mentally and physically. I have watched the good and bad of aging. My chances of longevity is good but I want to be mentally and physically as healthy as I can be. Not until I started working out with Kristi Cruz at A2 did I know how to prepare myself for my road ahead. Kristi has given me the tools and information for me to understand what I need. She has led me by my hands and feet to improve me physically and talked and explained to help me understand the process. Working out with Kristi two or three times per week is a priority and my recipe for good mental and physical health. My name is Geri Markham and I am 71 years old. I feel as fit as I could be at my age. I have to give all the credit to Kristi Cruz at A2 for walking with me through the process. I would recommend Kristi totally if you are interested in learning to be physically and mentally healthy as you move on in life. Life is good thanks to A2 and Kristi Cruz."

− Geri