With health care prices rising nationally, I commend the group of employers working together in the Aspen Valley Health Alliance to find ways to lower costs locally through looking at best practices for treating low back and neck pain (“Identifying best practices: Area employers to target neck and back pain to trim health costs,” Aspen Daily News, Jan. 14). It is a collection of efforts like these that allow people to affordably work and live in our exceptional community. We already have access to spectacular orthopedic services in the valley, and a project to streamline treatment for spinal pain will not only reduce costs to patients, but also improve quality and speed of recovery.
The body of research on neck and back pain is vast. Published studies report that 80 percent of people experience low back pain in their lifetime which makes it the most common orthopedic injury. A recent survey by the American Physical Therapy Association found that over one-third of people with back pain experience pain that affects their daily activities. This survey also found that over one-third of people experiencing back pain do not seek treatment. Studies on neck pain show better success rates for long term recovery through physical therapy than through other noninvasive treatments. A 2012 study published in Spine showed that early access to physical therapy improved patient outcomes and decreased health costs, which agrees with previous research correlating the delay of treatment to an increased development of chronic low back pain.
Even though most people experience low back pain at some point in their lives, many do not realize they can prevent or treat the condition with the help of a physical therapist. This treatment may include a combination of exercises to strengthen the back, manual therapy to improve the mobility of joints and soft tissues, and education about how to take better care of the back to relieve pain and prevent recurrence in the long term.
Active residents of Aspen and the surrounding communities can do their part to limit medical costs related to neck and back pain by seeking physical therapy early with the onset of pain rather than delaying until the pain is severe. This step alone will decrease the need for expensive diagnostic tests, stop the development of chronic pain, and help to prevent the need for surgery.
James R. Spencer, PT, DPT,