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The Real Cost Savings of Physical Therapy

Woman speaking to physical therapist over laptop

Physical therapy has a real role to play when it comes to cost savings, specifically for patients experiencing low back pain. According to a recent study by the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapy was cheaper long-term than both injections and surgery. The average cost savings were 18% for treatments that started with injections, and 50% for treatments that started with surgery. Let’s break down the cost savings of physical therapy.

Physical therapy wins on intervention cost perspective

When physical therapy was used as an initial intervention, the average total medical cost was $3,992 – 19% lower than the average cost when injections were initiated first, and 75% lower than the average cost when surgery was initiated first ($16,195).

Physical therapy provides savings over the long-term

The study found that over a 12-month period, patients who suffered from low back pain and were treated with physical therapy first as opposed to injections or surgery had fewer additional costs than the other two groups (injections and surgery). On average, patients initially treated with injections had additional costs of $13,6060, and $36,772 for those treated with surgery.

Additionally, patients who started physical therapy within 15 days of diagnosis had lower treatment costs than those who started later.

Orthopedic physicians are the most likely to refer patients to physical therapy

37% of the low back pain diagnoses in the study were made by primary care physicians. While orthopedic physicians made only 8% of the diagnoses, they referred 21% of the patients they saw to physical therapy. Primary care physicians on the other hand referred 13% of their patients to physical therapy.

These are telling statistics, especially when combined with the additional costs of injections and surgery. If you’re experiencing low back pain, it could be in your benefit to advocate for physical therapy instead of the other two options.

Physical therapy has a key role to play for long-term savings

The study confirmed what physical therapists have long been saying: that early intervention can dramatically reduce pain and provide cost-effective treatment. “The results of the study highlight the importance of initiating physical therapy prior to other more expensive and invasive interventions,” Bage said. “The savings identified in the study are not insignificant and clearly correlate with better outcomes.”

This is critically important when examining the study through the lens of a Medicare policy: “In a Medicare policy environment focused on value-based payment reform and care management strategies aimed in part at cost reduction, understanding potential cost implications of first line treatment utilization is relevant.” […] ”The findings from this report signal possible advantages of [physical] therapy as a potential cost saver relative to other treatment interventions for low back pain.”

If you’re looking for solutions that work and provide significant cost savings, schedule an appointment with Agile Virtual PT. Our physical therapists will develop a plan specific to the needs of your patients all within the safety and comfort of their own homes.