Comorbidities and Recovery after Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain

By Vennela Thumula, Te-Chun Liu, Randall Lea, M.D.

Related Topics: Behavioral Health, Physical Medicine, Worker Outcomes

This study examines the prevalence of self-reported comorbidities, assesses the association between self-reported comorbidities and functional improvements, and identifies other important predictors of physical therapy outcomes.

Identifying these comorbidities and understanding their impact on recovery may help workers’ compensation stakeholders better understand which low back pain cases are more likely to have poorer outcomes and potentially adapt treatments for workers with high-risk comorbidities. Up until this study, there was little information regarding the prevalence of comorbidities among workers with injuries, because comorbidities are typically under-identified in workers’ compensation claims data.

These results are based on a large sample of 68,850 workers who were injured on the job and received physical therapy for low back pain. The data were prospectively collected by Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO) from low back pain patients at their first and last physical therapy visit over the 2017-2021 period. These data included information on patient-reported functional outcomes, patient-level socio-demographics, self-reported comorbidities, and other characteristics.

Comorbidities and Recovery after Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain. Vennela Thumula, Te-Chun Liu, and Randall D. Lea. November 2023. WC-23-33.

Copyright: WCRI

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Research Questions:

  • Which comorbidities are common among injured workers?
  • What specific comorbidities are associated with stronger associations with smaller functional improvements?
  • Are there other patient and treatment characteristics that can predict physical therapy outcomes?

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