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. 

"I started at A2 about mid-July and I am in the 9:00 am Friday class. A2 has opened me up to new levels of a workout. There is no “golden Standard”. Everyone goes to the best of their abilities. I feel like I can workout without being judged. In my class there are my mom, dad, aunt Lori, aunt Amber, my cousin Mandy and our newest addition Randy. Kristi is always encouraging us to give our all. She is never telling us that we aren’t doing the workout right. Instead she helps us grow by kindly telling us if we do it this way we will get more out of it and she always helps us get there. I decided to do cross country this year and I feel like I can go and be successful and strong because of my A2 workout. Thank you so much for helping me grow in my health."

− Genevieve

"It was very helpful to be taught exercises I could do at home to alleviate the pain in my back and to make my stomach/diaphragm stronger. It was a great experience and I took away a lot of knowledge to help myself."

− T. Docherty

"I found A2 Physical therapy was able to give me the help I needed in the exercises and cupping they gave me to loosen up my stiff joints and muscles that I could hardly move due to surgery, stiffness, and soreness. I think A2 PT are running a top notch business. The therapists that worked with and on me were extremely courteous. Molly was so helpful in my therapy and an absolute delight to work with. She got me back to 100% in just 4 weeks and my visits were 1 day a week. This was my first experience working with PT’s and it was totally a wonderful experience. Thank you A2 Physical Therapy and thank you Ms. Molly Daugherty for working with me and making my recovery and stability improve so quickly. Should I need PT again I will call you. Again many thanks."

− Diane