1. Schmidt, Catherine T. PT, DPT, MS, PhD


Background and Purpose: Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is associated with high health care utilization for older adults. Physical therapy (PT) offers low medical risk and reduced cost burden with functional outcomes that appear to be equivalent to higher risk interventions such as surgery. However, it is unknown whether receipt of PT following incident LSS diagnosis is associated with reduced health care utilization. The objectives of this study were to: (1) compare health characteristics for Medicare beneficiaries who received outpatient PT within 30 days of incident LSS diagnosis to those who did not; (2) compare the 1-year utilization rates for specific health care services for these 2 groups; and (3) quantify the likelihood of progression to specific health services based on the receipt of PT.


Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study using nationally representative claims data for Medicare Part B beneficiaries between 2007 and 2010. Lumbar spinal stenosis was determined using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) codes. Beneficiaries 65 years and older were classified into 2 groups (PT and no PT) based on receipt of PT within 30 days of initial diagnosis. Baseline characteristics were identified at incident diagnosis. Hazard ratios (HRs) were estimated for the risk of receiving health services outcomes including spinal surgery, spinal injections, chiropractic care, advanced imaging, spinal radiographs, opioid medication, nonopioid analgesics, and hospitalizations beginning on day 31 up to 1 year following incident LSS diagnosis.


Results and Discussion: Among 60 646 Medicare beneficiaries with incident LSS who met the inclusion criteria, 1124 were classified in the PT group and 59 522 in the no PT group. Compared with the PT group, beneficiaries in the no PT group had a greater risk of having hospitalizations (HR = 1.40), opioid medications (HR = 1.29), spinal surgery (HR = 1.29), and spinal radiographs (HR = 1.19) within 1 year.


Conclusions: Fewer than 2% of Medicare beneficiaries received PT within 30 days of initial LSS diagnosis. Receipt of PT was associated with less utilization of higher risk and costly health services for 1 year. These results may inform practitioners when making early decisions about rehabilitative care for older adults with LSS.