Patients who first saw a physical therapist for low back pain, rather than a primary care physician (PCP), were much less likely to be prescribed opioids, says a study.
"To reduce the risks of short- and long-term opioid use, insurers should incentivise patients to see physical therapists or chiropractors first following a bout of low back pain, before seeing a PCP," said study lead author Lewis Kazis, Professor at Boston University in the USA.
For the research, the team looked at commercial insurance and Medicare Advantage claims data from the OptumLabs database for 216,504 adults who were diagnosed with new-onset low back pain between 2008 and 2013 and had not been prescribed opioids before.
For the analysis, the researchers controlled as many socio-demographic, geographical, and medical history factors as they could get from the insurance claims data.
According to the study, published in BMJ Open, patients who first saw a PCP for low back pain were 79 per cent more likely to use prescription opioids than patients who first visited a chiropractor and 71 per cent more likely than those who first went to a physical therapist.
The researchers also found patients in states with provisional or unrestricted access to physical therapy were much more likely to see a physical therapist first than patients in states with limited physical therapy access.