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. 

"Thanks so much - from the front desk, to my therapist Danny, to the owners. I felt supported by caring professionals while I recovered from my work related injuries. I felt encouraged to work hard to fully recover, and I feel like I have. Negotiating health care services can be overwhelming, but A2 made getting the care I needed straight forward. Thanks again for everything."

− David

"Two words…WOW! Amazing! These two words encompass everything that is A2 Physical Therapy is. Put aside the beauty of the business, the immaculate cleanliness and exquisite equipment. More important is the quality of care that you revive here. The extensive knowledge and the actual sure care that provide is fantastic. You will be, as I have been, in great hands as the work to achieve the goals you will set together. It is a true joy to be a part of this “family”! Thank you A2!"

− Sean

"After a three-car rear end accident, I had a concussion and severe whiplash. I picked A2 to help me recover. I will have to honestly say A2's expertise and therapists along with all the other staff, have been the "silver lining". They are very knowledgable and take the time to explain what they are doing. and why they are doing it. They are extremely friendly, thoughtful, and maintain flexible hours. I have followed the home exercises regularly and have seen steady improvement. This is very important as I am a small business owner with a physically demanding job. A2 has it all! Fantastic physical therapists, massage therapist, and personal fitness trainers, all under one roof. Alika is a visionary and A2 is the hidden jewel of PT, but not for long."

− Danielle