Effectiveness of Physical Therapy for Back Pain

Graphic- Effectiveness of Physical Therapy for Back Pain
A randomized controlled trial examined the effects of early referral to physical therapy plus a single educational session versus a single educational session alone on disability among patients with acute sciatica. Patients referred to physical therapy reported reduced pain and disability. Reproduced with permission from https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-4187. ©American College of Physicians.

Back pain is among the most common reasons for visits to physicians and physical therapists and is the costliest health condition in the US. Twenty years ago, the scientific basis to guide decision-making on treatments for specific types of back pain was weak. Since then, Julie Fritz, PhD, and colleagues have conducted a series of rigorous randomized clinical trials examining patients with acute back pain, back pain accompanied by sciatica, and back pain due to spinal stenosis. Their recent study found that patients with back pain and sciatica who were referred to physical therapy for treatment with exercise and manual therapy were more likely to rate their treatment as successful and reported significantly greater reductions in pain and disability than patients who were not referred. These studies have defined effective physical therapy treatments for these conditions and facilitated clinical decision making and strategies to personalize physical therapy treatments. 


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Early physical therapy vs usual care in patients with recent-onset low back pain. Fritz JM, Magel JS, McFadden M, Asche CV, Thackeray A, Meier W, Brennan G. JAMA. 2015 October 14;314(14):1459.

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Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions. Foster NE, Anema JR, Cherkin D, Chou R, Cohen SP, Gross DP, Ferreira PH, Fritz JM, Koes BW, Peul W, Turner JA, Maher CG. Lancet. 2018 June 9;391(10137):2368.

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Physical therapy referral from primary care for acute back pain with sciatica: a randomized controlled trial. Fritz JM, Lane E, McFadden M, Brennan G, Magel JS, Thackeray A, Minick K, Meier W, Greene T. Ann Intern Med. 2021 January;174(1):8.

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U of U Health Key Faculty Collaborators

Jake Magel, PhD
Tom Greene, PhD
Anne Thackeray, PhD
Elizabeth Lane, PhD