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Extended Use of Physical Medicine for Low Back Pain: A Comprehensive Study by Workers’ Compensation Research Institute

25 Jul, 2023 Claire Muselman

back pain gb542e6144 640

Phoenix, AZ ( - In March 2023, Dongchun Wang from the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) presented a study on the extended use of physical medicine for low back pain claims in 28 states across the United States. The study provides valuable insights into the prevalence and severity indicators associated with this type of treatment.

Low back pain is a prevalent and burdensome condition affecting millions worldwide. With many treatment options available, understanding the trends and factors influencing the prolonged use of physical medicine in low back pain cases is essential for optimizing patient care and managing associated costs.

The study's methodology involved analyzing extensive data from nonsurgical back pain claims that received physical medicine services. Injuries occurring between October 1, 2015, and September 30, 2017, were closely examined, and the researchers followed the medical treatments and outcomes of these claims for 18 months, ending on March 31, 2019. By pooling data from 28 states, the study offered a comprehensive view of the national landscape regarding the extended use of physical medicine for low back pain.

The states encompassed in the study form a diverse sample representing different geographical regions and varying workers' compensation systems. Among the states included are Arkansas (AR), Tennessee (TN), Texas (TX), Iowa (IA), Michigan (MI), Missouri (MO), Nevada (NV), Kansas (KS), New Jersey (NJ), Indiana (IN), Georgia (GA), Kentucky (KY), New Mexico (NM), Wisconsin (WI), Florida (FL), North Carolina (NC), Maryland (MD), Virginia (VA), Pennsylvania (PA), Louisiana (LA), Illinois (IL), California (CA), South Carolina (SC), Minnesota (MN), Connecticut (CT), Massachusetts (MA), Delaware (DE), and New York (NY).

The study's primary findings revealed that in 18 of the 28 study states, 15% to 38% of low back pain claims were associated with extended physical medicine use. The number of low back pain claims indicates many cases where patients received physical medicine treatments beyond what might be considered typical for low back pain management.

Further examination into the extended physical medicine group unveiled critical severity indicators that distinguished this cohort from those with regular physical medicine use. Notably, a higher percentage of workers in the extended physical medicine group experienced neuro back pain, implying a potentially more severe condition compared to those with regular physical medicine use. This observation raises pertinent questions about the effectiveness of extended treatment in managing such challenging cases.

Work-related absenteeism is another significant aspect that the study explored. Among those with extended physical medicine treatment, 59% missed more than seven days of work, while only 26% in the regular physical medicine group had a similar duration of work absence. This finding underscores the economic impact of extended treatment and emphasizes the need for targeted interventions to minimize productivity losses and reduce associated costs.

Comorbidities emerged as a crucial factor influencing treatment decisions. Among individuals with at least one comorbidity, 8.4% received extended physical medicine use, compared to only 2.5% who received regular physical medicine treatment. These results suggest that additional health complications may lead to a more prolonged course of physical medicine treatments, warranting a holistic approach to managing low back pain cases with comorbid conditions.

The study also examined using injections for radicular pain within three months of treatment initiation. The data revealed that 4.9% of claims with extended physical medicine use received injections for radicular pain, while the corresponding figure was only 0.9% in the regular physical medicine group. This finding highlights potential differences in treatment modalities and raises questions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of specific interventions in prolonged cases.

Overall, the comprehensive study conducted by WCRI offers vital insights into the extended use of physical medicine for low back pain claims across diverse states. The data not only shed light on the prevalence of extended treatment but also identify key severity indicators and potential influencing factors.

As with any comprehensive study, it is essential to recognize its limitations and consider potential biases that might impact the findings. Nevertheless, the research serves as a crucial stepping stone for further investigations, enabling policymakers, healthcare providers, and researchers to tailor their approaches to managing low back pain more effectively.

Future research endeavors may delve into specific state-level analyses, allowing for regional comparisons and highlighting potential regional variations in extended physical medicine use. Additionally, investigating the cost-benefit aspects of extended treatments and their impact on patient outcomes could further contribute to evidence-based decision-making in managing low back pain cases.

The study's outcomes hold immense significance for pain management, offering valuable insights into the extended use of physical medicine for low back pain and paving the way for improved patient care and optimized treatment strategies for the future.

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    About The Author

    • Claire Muselman

      Meet Dr. Claire C. Muselman, the Chief Operating Officer at, where she blends her vast academic insight and professional innovation with a uniquely positive energy. As the President of DCM, Dr. Muselman is renowned for her dynamic approach that reshapes and energizes the workers' compensation industry. Dr. Muselman's academic credentials are as remarkable as her professional achievements. Holding a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership from Grand Canyon University, she specializes in employee engagement, human behavior, and the science of leadership. Her diverse background in educational leadership, public policy, political science, and dance epitomizes a multifaceted approach to leadership and learning. At Drake University, Dr. Muselman excels as an Assistant Professor of Practice and Co-Director of the Master of Science in Leadership Program. Her passion for teaching and commitment to innovative pedagogy demonstrate her dedication to cultivating future leaders in management, leadership, and business strategy. In the industry, Dr. Muselman actively contributes as an Ambassador for the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation and plays key roles in organizations such as Kids Chance of Iowa, WorkCompBlitz, and the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance, underscoring her leadership and advocacy in workers’ compensation. A highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Muselman inspires professionals with her engaging talks on leadership, self-development, and risk management. Her philosophy of empathetic and emotionally intelligent leadership is at the heart of her message, encouraging innovation and progressive change in the industry. "Empowerment is key to progress. By nurturing today's professionals with empathy and intelligence, we're crafting tomorrow's leaders." - Dr. Claire C. Muselman

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