McHenry Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain
Chances are, you or someone you know has had back pain. Each year 15% of the population has their first episode of back pain, and over the course of our lives, 80% of us will have back pain.
Is the source of your low back pain a mystery? You’re not alone: Nine out of 10 patients don’t know the primary cause of their back pain. The problem is that most people seek treatment after they’ve begun exhibiting symptoms of back pain. While this may seem logical on the surface, we’re here to tell you that there’s a better way.
TRICARE, one of the nation’s largest insurers wants their members to get physical therapy for back pain. They think that treating back pain with PT is so important that they’re willing to waive the cost to their members. That’s a huge deal. When’s the last time you remember an insurance company covering the entire cost of anything? Let’s dive into back pain treatments and see why TRICARE likes physical therapy so much.
Back Pain is a Common Problem in Adults
You probably already know that back pain is a common problem. What you might not know is that the medical system isn’t very good at treating it. Stories of chronic pain, opioid use, multiple surgeries, and a lifetime of disability are far too common. Low back pain is the #1 reason for opioid prescription in the US, however in 2006, the CDC recommended against the use of opioids for back pain. “Non-drug treatments like physical therapy” are now the first treatment recommended for back pain. Unfortunately, many providers don’t follow this and treatments are often recommended based on opinion rather than research. This means insurance companies and patients often end up spending a lot of money for outcomes that are less than stellar.
How to Treat Low Back Pain
Here’s how it usually goes: You go see your doctor with back pain. They might give you medication, recommend rest, some stretches, send you for x-rays or an MRI. Research has NEVER demonstrated a link between imaging and symptoms. As we age, degenerative changes on imaging is common. 90% of people age 50 to 55 have disc degeneration when imaged, whether they have symptoms or not. In 2015, a study that looked at 1,211 MRI scans of people with no pain found that 87.6% had a disc bulge. Just getting an image increases the chances that you’ll have surgery by 34%. The US has sky high rates for back surgeries – 40% higher than any other country and 5x higher than the UK. You’d think that with all the back surgeries we do, we’d be pretty good at it but the outcomes are terrible! A worker’s comp study looked at 725 people who had spinal fusions versus 725 people who didn’t. The surgical group had: a 1 in 4 chance of a repeat surgery, a 1 in 3 chance of a major complication and a 1 in 3 chance of never returning to work again.
Next will likely be a referral to a specialist like an orthopedic surgeon. Chances are you won’t be having surgery right away, so the specialist will either refer you to PT, or back to your PCP where you’ll end up with a McHenry physical therapy referral. The path will look different for each person, but the end result is usually the same – multiple failed treatments, imaging you probably didn’t need and a delay of weeks or months to get to a physical therapist.
Treating Lower Back Pain with Physical Therapy
Multiple large studies have looked at the effects of early physical therapy on low back pain with impressive results. One of them was done in 2006 in Seattle by Virginia Mason Health Center. They teamed up with Aetna and Starbucks to send workers with back pain to see both a physical therapist and physician for their first treatment. Use of MRI dropped by 1/3, people got better faster, missed less work and were more satisfied with their care. The cost savings was so great, that Virgina Mason was losing money on treating back pain and Aetna ended up paying them more for PT treatments because Aetna was saving so much money.
Intel ran a similar program with their employees, getting people with back pain to a McHenry physical therapy clinic within 48 hours. Previously it took about 19 days for people to get to a physical therapist. With the earlier access, patients completed their care in 21 days, compared with 52 days previously and costs dropped between 10 and 30%. Intel also found more satisfaction with care and a faster return to work.
Another study of 122,723 people with low back pain who started physical therapy within 14 days found that it decreased the cost to treat back pain by 60%. Unfortunately only 2% of people with back pain start with physical therapy, and only 7% get to a physical therapy clinic within 90 days. Almost every state has direct access, including Illinois, meaning that you can go directly to a physical therapist near you without a doctor’s referral. If you see your doctor for back pain, and physical therapy isn’t one of the first treatment options, ask for it!
The data proves physical therapy is the cheapest and most effective treatment for most people’s low back pain. It’s clear that people with back pain should start treatment with their McHenry physical therapist, but most don’t. TRICARE’s pilot program that waives copays for up to three PT visits aims to change that. If successful it will lead to lower costs for both TRICARE and their members while delivering better outcomes in less time.
Think about someone who has had weeks of pain and dysfunction stemming from low back pain: she wants to find a solution that will relieve her symptoms. If a physician presents surgery as the best option—and she’s assured that her pain will go away—then it’s going to sound appealing, right? Today’s consumer has so many choices when shopping for just about anything from apparel to healthcare. But while it’s customary to shop for the best price for a goose down jacket (without sacrificing quality), shopping around for the best solution (and value) for our ailments is less typical. Doing our due diligence in healthcare may ultimately bring us back to the first proposed solution, but it also may introduce us to solutions that we didn’t know existed.
Increased Activity can Prevent Low Back Pain
Lifestyle can play a big role in back pain. In fact, inactivity and incorrect body mechanics while participating in certain activities are two of the biggest contributors to back pain. It’s also helpful to pay attention to little things throughout your day that could add up to bigger problems down the line. Think about that desk job for a minute: How often do you get up to walk, stretch and move throughout the day? A good rule of thumb is to stand up or move every 30 minutes. You may get bonus points with your boss, too, as your productivity soars due to the increased activity. While low back pain rarely becomes serious or life-threatening, it can be quite painful and interfere with our daily lives. Working with a McHenry physical therapist can help patients identify the factors that might contribute to back pain and help to develop a prevention plan. But the healthcare professionals are also a great place to turn when you’re seeking treatment for back pain or hoping to prevent a recurrence. With such good odds that you could one day become a low back pain statistic, why not do everything in your power today to change your trajectory? Seems like another good reason to find an activity (or better yet, two or three activities) that you enjoy, make it a regular part of your day and stick to it!
The key is to go to a physical therapist before you begin to see the signs and symptoms of back pain. I’m sure that right about now you’re asking, “Why would I do that?” One, because physical therapists are trained to recognize the physical dysfunctions that may one day lead to back pain. And two, as already mentioned earlier, because eight out of 10 Americans suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives, so the chances are good that you could become a statistic one day. Seeing a physical therapist near you on an annual basis is one of the most effective ways to prevent back pain from occurring in the first place.
Doesn’t that sound like the better alternative? Great, now that you’re on board, let’s talk about what you can expect during that annual physical therapy appointment.
What to Expect at Physical Therapy
The first time you go, your physical therapist will collect a complete picture of your medical history. During subsequent visits, it’ll be important to update your physical therapist about any changes to your health during the previous 12 months, but it won’t be necessary to review your entire medical history again. Next, your physical therapist will perform an examination using a variety of tests and measures including a movement screen. A movement screen is a screening tool that’s designed to identify imbalances in your mobility and stability that may contribute to limited function or other impairments. This gives your PT the ability to see how your back, hips, core, shoulders, knees and ankles perform during a series of carefully selected exercises. The information gathered during an examination helps your physical therapist to identify changes from one year to the next, a critical step in assessing your risk for back pain and a host of other debilitating conditions. If a problem is identified early enough, then your physical therapist is better equipped to discuss preventive measures instead of designing a treatment plan. And that’s how you identify the root cause of back pain and derail issues before they even begin. Mystery solved.
Contact an Experienced McHenry Physical Therapy Clinic
Red Rock Physical Therapy is one of a select few physical therapy clinics in McHenry County who has the ability to utilize physical therapy for lower back pain on patients. Contact us to see if our physical therapy technique is the right form of treatment for you.