There is a lot of talk these days about “value-based health care” – in which more money is allocated to health care services that deliver the most value for patients, payers and the entire health care system. 


Physical therapy is one health service that delivers proven value for every dollar spent.

The Value of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy not only improves outcomes when used together with other medical treatments; it can also be used to prevent the need for more invasive and risky medical interventions – such as surgery, opioids and other prescription pain relief.








Just consider:


  • Early access to physical therapy saves about $5,000 in annual health care costs for every patient over the following two years. [1],[2]

  • Physical therapy gives patients power over pain, decreasing the need for prescription pain management, whose misuse is thought to increase health care and substance abuse treatment costs by $29 billion every year. [3]


  • Florida and other states that allow patients direct access to physical therapy services save money. Research demonstrates that the average cost for physical therapy claims is lower for patients who visit a physical therapist directly ($347) than for patients referred by a physician ($420). Additionally, patients who visit a physical therapist directly for outpatient care had 86 percent fewer visits on average than those who were referred by a physician. [4]


  • The American Heart Association encourages patients with heart disease to see a physical therapist for the initial treatment of pain as an alternative to prescription medications. [5]

  • The U.S. Surgeon General believes physical therapy has a critical role in solving the opioid crisis, as well as in the transition to value-based care. "It's an indisputable fact that physical therapists are well-positioned to change the culture around pain management," said U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH. "We know that physical therapy is going to be a part of the evolution toward value-based care." [6]

  • Early use of physical therapy holds the promise of reducing opioid use among patients with musculoskeletal pain, according to a large-scale study published in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) Network Open. The study concludes that for patients experiencing back, knee, neck, or shoulder pain, a visit to a physical therapist (PT) early on can reduce the chances that they'll take any opioids for the condition. [7]

[1] Childs JD, Fritz JM, Wu SS, Flynn TW, Wainner RS, Robertson EK, Kim FS, George SZ. Implications of early and guideline adherent physical therapy for low back pain on utilization and costs. BMC Health Serv Res. 2015; 15: 150.

[2] Fritz JM, Brennan GP, Hunter SJ. Physical Therapy or Advanced Imaging as First Management Strategy Following a New Consultation for Low Back Pain in Primary Care: Associations with Future Health Care Utilization and Charges. Health Serv Res. 2015 Dec; 50(6): 1927–1940.

[3] Florence CS1, Zhou C, Luo F, Xu L. The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States. Med Care. 2016 Oct;54(10):901-6. DOI: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000625.

[4] Pendergast J, Kliethermes A, Freburger J, Duffy, P. A Comparison of Health Care Use for Physician-Referred and Self-Referred Episodes of Outpatient Physical Therapy. Health Services Research, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6773.2011.01324.x

[5] Elliott MA, Bennett JS, Daugherty A, Furberg C, Roberts H, Taubert KA. Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: An update for clinicians: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007:115:1634-1642.

[6] 'No Bigger Fan': US Surgeon General Believes the Physical Therapy Profession is a Key Player in the Fight Against Opioid Misuse; APTA In Motion News. Jan. 24, 2019.

[7] Sun, Eric, Moshfegh, Jasmine, et al. Association of Early Physical Therapy With Long-term Opioid Use Among Opioid-Naive Patients With Musculoskeletal Pain. JAMA Network Open. Dec. 14, 2018.