Study: Referral to Physical Therapy for LBP Reduces Odds of Later Opioid Prescription—Even When Patients Don’t Follow Up on the Referral

There’s solid evidence that physical therapy as a first-line approach for low back pain (LBP) improves outcomes, but not many studies have focused on the factors that are associated with referral to physical therapy in the first place, regardless of later participation in treatment. Now authors of a recent study believe they’ve found associations indicating that the very act of referral for physical therapy may point to the ways a primary care provider’s approach to LBP can affect patient perceptions and reduce odds of later opioid use, even when the patient doesn’t follow through with the referral.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine looked at data from 454 Medicaid enrollees who were initially treated by a primary care provider for LBP, of which 215 received a referral for physical therapy. While researchers were interested in differences between the referral and nonreferral groups, the target of their study was something they believe is missing in current research: an examination of the entire referral population, regardless of whether those patients followed up with actual physical therapy.

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