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Does Early Physical Therapy Intervention Reduce Opioid Burden And Improve Functionality In The Management Of Chronic Lower Back Pain?

Shedrick Martin, Kimberly Tallian, Victoria T. Nguyen, Jason van Dyke, Harminder Sikand

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Abstract Introduction Chronic lower back pain is a leading cause of disability in US adults. Opioid use continues to be controversial despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on chronic pain management to use nonpharmacologic and nonopioid pharmacologic interventions. The objectives of the study were to assess the impact of early physical therapy (PT) intervention on improving functionality and reducing opioid burden in patients with chronic lower back pain. Methods A single-center, retrospective chart review of patients receiving ≥6 PT visits and treated with either opioids first (OF) or PT first (PTF) therapy for chronic lower back pain were evaluated. Concomitant use of nonopioid and nonpharmacologic therapy was permitted. The Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), a survey measuring functionality, was recorded for PTF group. Pain scores and medication use including opioids were collected at treatment initiation and completion. Results One hundred and eighty patients were included in three groups: OF group (n = 60), PTF group (n = 60), and PTF + ODI group (n = 60). The PTF + ODI group had mean ODI reduction of 11.9% (P < .001). More OF patients were lost to follow up (68.3%) or failed PT (60%) compared to the PTF group, 38.3% and 3.3% (P < .001). Reduction in both opioid and nonopioid medications as well as pain scores were observed but not statistically significant. Discussion Early PT resulted in improved functionality, decreased pain, and reduced medication use upon PT completion. These findings suggest PT, along with nonopioid modalities, are a viable first-line option for the management of chronic lower back pain.