A comparison of analgesic prescribing among ED back and neck pain visits receiving physical therapy versus usual care

Howard S. Kim*, Sabrina H. Kaplan, Danielle M. McCarthy, Daniel Pinto, Kyle J. Strickland, D. Mark Courtney, Bruce L. Lambert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Objective: Physical therapy (PT) is commonly cited as a non-opioid pain strategy, and previous studies indicate PT reduces opioid utilization in outpatients with back pain. No study has yet examined whether PT is associated with lower analgesic prescribing in the ED setting. Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of discharged ED visits with a primary ICD-10 diagnosis relating to back or neck pain from 10/1/15 to 2/21/17 at an urban academic ED. Visits receiving a PT evaluation were matched with same-date visits receiving usual care. We compared the primary outcomes of opioid and benzodiazepine prescribing between the two cohorts using chi-squared test and multivariable logistic regression. Results: 74 ED visits received PT during the study period; these visits were matched with 390 same-date visits receiving usual care. Opioid prescribing among ED-PT visits was not significantly higher compared to usual care visits on both unadjusted analysis (50% vs 42%, p = 0.19) and adjusted analysis (adjOR 1.05, 95% CI 0.48–2.28). However, benzodiazepine prescribing among ED-PT visits was significantly higher than usual care visits on both unadjusted (45% vs 23%, p < 0.001) and adjusted analysis (adjOR 3.65, 95% CI 1.50–8.83). Conclusions: In this single center study, ED back and neck pain visits receiving PT were no less likely to receive an opioid prescription and were more likely to receive a benzodiazepine than visits receiving usual care. Although prior studies demonstrate that PT may reduce opioid utilization in the subsequent year, these results indicate that analgesic prescribing is not reduced at the initial ED encounter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1322-1326
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019



  • Back pain
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Opioids
  • Physical therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine

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