Injuries to the back are a major issue in the developed world. It is affecting many of us. According to the current estimates, the majority of people suffer from back discomfort at least once. It’s also costly. The neck and back pain make the top healthcare cost within the U.S., totaling $134 billion in 2016.

It’s a surprise to a lot of people. What is the reason it’s so expensive? The primary reason is that it’s very common. Another reason is that the current system isn’t effective in dealing with it. The current guidelines recommend the use of activity modification as well as active therapies such as physical therapy. It’s because studies have proven that beginning PT results in better outcomes and lower expenses.

However there are a few exceptions. Only two percent of patients suffering from back pain begin PT while only 7% of patients get PT after 90 days. Research has also shown that , the more time it takes for a patient to begin physical therapy as well as the longer an episode will last past the point at which it began.

However the study that looked at approximately 2.5 million patients suffering from back pain that was published in JAMA revealed that 32.3 percent of the patients had imaging at the time of being diagnosed and 35.3 percent received imaging without any physical therapy. Both of these findings go against the current recommendations for lower back treatment of back pain.

Recent studies have shown that results are higher and that costs can be as much as 50% less when the first doctor you visit to treat back discomfort is an PT. Participating in physical therapy before other treatments has been proven to dramatically reduce the use of drugs and addiction.

Physical Therapists are trained to check for indications of more serious health issues and send a patient to an proper medical professional if suspicious signs are discovered during an initial examination. State-specific rules differ from state-to-state, however in Pennsylvania the physical therapist can assess the patient and provide treatment for up to 30 days , without consulting a doctor first. Unfortunately, this is not applicable to those with Medicare. They still need to consult a doctor first.

A majority of patients who go to a PT first to treat back pain do not need to consult a doctor or even they require any tests. The pain typically disappears in the initial 30 days. The savings for the health industry could be substantial, but better than that, patients recover faster.

While many of the research studies mentioned above focused solely on back pain, studies on other musculoskeletal issues that affect diverse body parts are proving similar results. If you’ve sprained your ankle, hit too many practice pitches for batting or traveled too many miles on your bicycle, visiting a PT as the first step to the medical system can result in higher quality outcomes and costs less.

Alongside being able to heal faster, you’ll also leave your physical trainer with exercises and knowledge about your injury that will keep you fit and pain-free in the future.

It is estimated that the amount that is wasted on testing and medication in our country is huge and the consequences of musculoskeletal injuries in this country are not as good as the the advanced nations around the globe. It is time to shift our thinking about what is the best method to care for back pain as well as other injuries to the musculoskeletal system more efficient and efficient way.

Take a look at physical therapy first next time you awake with that pain that is nagging you. You’ll be amazed.

Mark Reitz is a physical therapist at Penn Therapy Associates Inc. 2010 West Chester Pike, Suite 350, Havertown. Contact Mark Reitz at 610-853-0508.