A Prospective Observational Study of Emergency Department-Initiated Physical Therapy for Acute Low Back Pain

Howard S. Kim*, Jody D. Ciolino, Nicola Lancki, Kyle J. Strickland, Daniel Pinto, Christine Stankiewicz, D. Mark Courtney, Bruce L. Lambert, Danielle M. McCarthy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: Low back pain accounts for nearly 4 million emergency department (ED) visits annually and is a significant source of disability. Physical therapy has been suggested as a potentially effective nonopioid treatment for low back pain; however, no studies to our knowledge have yet evaluated the emerging resource of ED-initiated physical therapy. The study objective was to compare patient-reported outcomes in patients receiving ED-initiated physical therapy and patients receiving usual care for acute low back pain. Methods: This was a prospective observational study of ED patients receiving either physical therapy or usual care for acute low back pain from May 1, 2018, to May 24, 2019, at a single academic ED (>91,000 annual visits). The primary outcome was pain-related functioning, assessed with Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) and Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System pain interference (PROMIS-PI) scores. The secondary outcome was use of high-risk medications (opioids, benzodiazepines, and skeletal muscle relaxants). Outcomes were compared over 3 months using adjusted linear mixed and generalized estimating equation models. Results: For 101 participants (43 receiving ED-initiated physical therapy and 58 receiving usual care), the median age was 40.5 years and 59% were women. Baseline outcome scores in the ED-initiated physical therapy group were higher than those in the usual care group (ODI = 51.1 vs 36.0; PROMIS-PI = 67.6 vs 62.7). Patients receiving ED-initiated physical therapy had greater improvements in both ODI and PROMIS-PI scores at the 3-month follow-up (ODI =-14.4 [95% CI =-23.0 to-5.7]; PROMIS-PI =-5.1 [95% CI =-9.9 to-0.4]) and lower use of high-risk medications (odds ratio = 0.05 [95% CI = 0.01 to 0.58]). Conclusion: In this single-center observational study, ED-initiated physical therapy for acute low back pain was associated with improvements in functioning and lower use of high-risk medications compared with usual care; the causality of these relationships remains to be explored. Impact: ED-initiated physical therapy is a promising therapy for acute low back pain that may reduce reliance on high-risk medications while improving patient-reported outcomes. Lay Summary: Emergency department-initiated physical therapy for low back pain was associated with greater improvement in functioning and lower use of high-risk medications over 3 months.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberpzaa219
JournalPhysical therapy
Volume101
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

Keywords

  • Acute Care
  • Acute Pain
  • Analgesics
  • Back Pain
  • Emergency Care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

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