The Mayo Clinic recently posted the top 10 reasons people visit their doctor‘s office. The three leading reasons people visit their health-care providers were skin problems, joint disorders and back pain.


With the advent of direct access to physical therapists in California, it makes sense to consider when to see who, especially if there is a significant wait to see the MD.

Most patients with low back pain (LBP) initially access health care through their primary care provider.1, 2 This may have a substantial impact on outcomes and costs. According to Fritz’s study in SPINE, only 7% of people who consult their primary care provider for low back pain are referred by their provider to physical therapy in the first 90 days of an episode.3

According to the same study early physical therapy intervention (commencing within 14 days of initial onset) was associated with decreased risks. People who saw a physical therapist early for back pain had less advanced imaging, fewer additional physician visits, fewer injections, and less opioid medications compared with no physical therapy or delayed physical therapy. Total medical costs for low back pain were $2736.23 lower for patients receiving early physical therapy. That is a cost savings of over $2700 per case, on average.

Getting in to see a physical therapist quicker results in better outcomes, fewer tests, less drug use and lower costs. There is work involved from the patient/customer, including posture, exercise, stretching and getting back to activity. The process in physical therapy is not a passive one for low back pain. And that may be why some people opt to try a “quick fix” first. But the benefits noted above are overwhelming. And in addition to those, people who go to see a good physical therapist have tools and techniques to maintain themselves pain free and manage their backs in the future.


  1. Deyo RA, Phillips WR. Low back pain: a primary care challenge. Spine 1996; 21:2826-32.
  2. Gellhorn AC, Chan L, Martin B, et al. Management patterns in acute low back pain: the role of physical therapy. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) 2012; 37:775-82.
  3. Fritz JM, Childs JD, Wainner RS, Flynn TW. Primary care referral of patients with low back pain to physical therapy: Impact on future health care utilization and costs, 2012. Spine 2012; 25:2114-21.