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September 30, 2010


September 30, 2010


This case is decided pursuant to Chapter 410 of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and Rules of the Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted thereunder.


A contested case hearing was held on September 27, 2010, to decide the following disputed issue:

Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization (IRO) that Claimant is not entitled to additional physical therapy three times per week for three weeks for the compensable injury of ____________?


Petitioner/Claimant appeared and was assisted by RR, ombudsman.

Respondent/Carrier was represented by PM, attorney.


On ____________, Claimant sustained a compensable injury to his lumbar spine after making wooden pallets. Carrier has accepted a compensable lumbar sprain/strain. As a result of the compensable injury, Claimant has undergone approximately 13 sessions of physical therapy from March 11, 2010 through August 10, 2010. Claimant's treating physician referred the Claimant to an orthopedist, who has recommended an additional 9 sessions of physical therapy. The request for additional therapy was denied by the Carrier and referred to an IRO who upheld the Carrier's denial.

The IRO reviewer, a Board Certified Occupational Medicine physician, concluded that per the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) “there was no clear rationale for additional physical therapy for this patient at this clinical stage.”

Texas Labor Code Section 408.021 provides that an employee who sustains a compensable injury is entitled to all health care reasonably required by the nature of the injury as and when needed. Health care reasonably required is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (22a) as health care that is clinically appropriate and considered effective for the injured employee's injury and provided in accordance with best practices consistent with evidence based medicine or, if evidence based medicine is not available, then generally accepted standards of medical practice recognized in the medical community. Health care under the Texas Workers' Compensation system must be consistent with evidence based medicine if that evidence is available. Evidence based medicine is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011 (18a) to be the use of the current best quality scientific and medical evidence formulated from credible scientific studies, including peer-reviewed medical literature and other current scientifically based texts and treatment and practice guidelines. The Commissioner of the Division of Workers' compensation is required to adopt treatment guidelines that are evidence-based, scientifically valid, outcome-focused and designed to reduce excessive or inappropriate medical care while safeguarding necessary medical care. Texas Labor Code Section 413.011(e). Medical services consistent with the medical policies and fee guidelines adopted by the commissioner are presumed reasonable in accordance with Texas Labor Code Section 413.017(1).

In accordance with the above statutory guidance, the Division of Workers' Compensation has adopted treatment guidelines by Division Rule 137.100. This rule directs health care providers to provide treatment in accordance with the current edition of the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG), and such treatment is presumed to be health care reasonably required as defined in the Texas Labor Code. Thus, the focus of any health care dispute starts with the health care set out in the ODG. Also, in accordance with Division Rule 133.308 (t), "A decision issued by an IRO is not considered an agency decision and neither the Department nor the Division are considered parties to an appeal. In a Contested Case Hearing (CCH), the party appealing the IRO decision has the burden of overcoming the decision issued by an IRO by a preponderance of evidence-based medical evidence."

The ODG recognizes the role of physical therapy in the management of lumbar injuries and notes the duration of physical therapy for the lumbar spine as follows:

Recommended. There is strong evidence that physical methods, including exercise and return to normal activities, have the best long-term outcome in employees with low back pain. See also Exercise. Direction from physical and occupational therapy providers can play a role in this, with the evidence supporting active therapy and not extensive use of passive modalities. The most effective strategy may be delivering individually designed exercise programs in a supervised format (for example, home exercises with regular therapist follow-up), encouraging adherence to achieve high dosage, and stretching and muscle-strengthening exercises seem to be the most effective types of exercises for treating chronic low back pain. (Hayden, 2005) Studies also suggest benefit from early use of aggressive physical therapy (“sports medicine model”), training in exercises for home use, and a functional restoration program, including intensive physical training, occupational therapy, and psychological support. (Zigenfus, 2000) (Linz, 2002) (Cherkin-NEJM, 1998) (Rainville, 2002) Successful outcomes depend on a functional restoration program, including intensive physical training, versus extensive use of passive modalities. (Mannion, 2001) (Jousset, 2004) (Rainville, 2004) (Airaksinen, 2006) One clinical trial found both effective, but chiropractic was slightly more favorable for acute back pain and physical therapy for chronic cases. (Skargren, 1998) A spinal stabilization program is more effective than standard physical therapy sessions, in which no exercises are prescribed. With regard to manual therapy, this approach may be the most common physical therapy modality for chronic low back disorder, and it may be appropriate as a pain reducing modality, but it should not be used as an isolated modality because it does not concomitantly reduce disability, handicap, or improve quality of life. (Goldby-Spine, 2006) Better symptom relief is achieved with directional preference exercise. (Long, 2004) As compared with no therapy, physical therapy (up to 20 sessions over 12 weeks) following disc herniation surgery was effective. Because of the limited benefits of physical therapy relative to "sham" therapy (massage), it is open to question whether this treatment acts primarily physiologically, but psychological factors may contribute substantially to the benefits observed. (Erdogmus, 2007) See also specific physical therapy modalities, as well as Exercise; Work conditioning; Lumbar extension exercise equipment; McKenzie method; Stretching; & Aquatic therapy. [Physical therapy is the treatment of a disease or injury by the use of therapeutic exercise and other interventions that focus on improving posture, locomotion, strength, endurance, balance, coordination, joint mobility, flexibility, activities of daily living and alleviating pain. (BlueCross BlueShield, 2005) As for visits with any medical provider, physical therapy treatment does not preclude an employee from being at work when not visiting the medical provider, although time off may be required for the visit.]

Active Treatment versus Passive Modalities: The use of active treatment modalities instead of passive treatments is associated with substantially better clinical outcomes. In a large case series of patients with acute low back pain treated by physical therapists, those adhering to guidelines for active rather than passive treatments incurred fewer treatment visits, cost less, and had less pain and less disability. The overall success rates were 64.7% among those adhering to the active treatment recommendations versus 36.5% for passive treatment. (Fritz, 2007) The most commonly used active treatment modality is Therapeutic exercises (97110), but other active therapies may be recommended as well, including Neuromuscular reeducation (97112), Manual therapy (97140), and Therapeutic activities/exercises (97530). A recent RCT comparing active spinal stabilization exercises (using the GDS or Godelive Denys-Struyf method) with passive electrotherapy using TENS plus microwave treatment (considered conventional physical therapy in Spanish primary care), concluded that treatment of nonspecific LBP using the GDS method provides greater improvements in the midterm (6 months) in terms of pain, functional ability, and quality of life. (Arribas, 2009)

Patient Selection Criteria:Multiple studies have shown that patients with a high level of fear-avoidance do much better in a supervised physical therapy exercise program, and patients with low fear-avoidance do better following a self-directed exercise program. When using the Fear-Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire (FABQ), scores greater than 34 predicted success with PT supervised care. (Fritz, 2001) (Fritz, 2002) (George, 2003) (Klaber, 2004) (Riipinen, 2005) (Hicks, 2005) Without proper patient selection, routine physical therapy may be no more effective than one session of assessment and advice from a physical therapist. (Frost, 2004) Patients exhibiting the centralization phenomenon during lumbar range of motion testing should be treated with the specific exercises (flexion or extension) that promote centralization of symptoms. When findings from the patient’s history or physical examination are associated with clinical instability, they should be treated with a trunk strengthening and stabilization exercise program. (Fritz-Spine, 2003) Practitioners must be cautious when implementing the wait-and-see approach for LBP, and once medical clearance has been obtained, patients should be advised to keep as active as possible. Patients presenting with high fear avoidance characteristics should have these concerns addressed aggressively to prevent long-term disability, and they should be encouraged to promote the resumption of physical activity. (Hanney, 2009)

ODG Physical Therapy Guidelines –

Allow for fading of treatment frequency (from up to 3 or more visits per week to 1 or less), plus active self-directed home PT. Also see other general guidelines that apply to all conditions under Physical Therapy in the ODG Preface, including assessment after a "six-visit clinical trial".

Lumbar sprains and strains (ICD9 847.2):

10 visits over 8 weeks

Sprains and strains of unspecified parts of back (ICD9 847):

10 visits over 5 weeks

Sprains and strains of sacroiliac region (ICD9 846):

Medical treatment: 10 visits over 8 weeks

The ODG recommends 10 visits of physical therapy for a lumbar sprain/strain over an eight week period. The evidence established that Claimant underwent 13 physical therapy visits over an eight week period. Additionally, Claimant was performing physical therapy at home, stretching, and was prescribed a TENS unit. The IRO reviewer noted that physical therapy is beneficial in the early phase of diagnosed sprain/strain and if the patient does not show significant improvement during this phase, it is unlikely that physical therapy will be beneficial in the “chronic phase.” The IRO reviewer further noted that Claimant had already undergone “8 weeks of palliative care, including chiropractic care, physical therapy, and a home TENS unit. However, he was unable to obtain any lasting relief in his symptoms.” The Claimant's referral treating doctor has merely recommended additional physical therapy and opined that “I believe the patient has had an adequate course of conservative therapy thus far for the last two months. This has not improved his pain and discomfort…” However, the referral physician and the Claimant’s treating physician have failed to explain the need for additional therapy exceeding the recommendations in the ODG. Claimant failed to provide evidence based medical evidence contrary to the decision of the IRO. Based on the evidence presented, the Claimant did not meet his burden to present evidence based medicine evidence contrary to the IRO's determination.

Even though all the evidence presented was not discussed, it was considered. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on all of the evidence presented.


  1. The parties stipulated to the following facts:

A.Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.

B. On ____________, Claimant was the employee of (Self-Insured).

C.On ____________, Claimant sustained a compensable injury.

  • Carrier delivered to Claimant a single document stating the true corporate name of Carrier, and the name and street address of Carrier’s registered agent, which document was admitted into evidence as Hearing Officer’s Exhibit Number 2.
  • The IRO determined that the requested services were not reasonable and necessary health care services for the compensable injury of ____________.
  • Claimant failed to present evidence based medicine contrary to the IRO decision.
  • Physical therapy three times per week for three weeks is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of ____________.

    1. The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has jurisdiction to hear this case.
    2. Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office.
    3. The preponderance of the evidence is not contrary to the decision of the IRO that Claimant is not entitled to additional physical therapy three times per week for three weeks for the compensable injury of ____________.


    Claimant is not entitled to additional physical therapy three times per week for three weeks for the compensable injury of ____________.


    Carrier is not liable for the benefits at issue in this hearing. Claimant remains entitled to medical benefits for the compensable injury in accordance with §408.021.

    The true corporate name of the insurance carrier is (SELF-INSURED), and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is

    CT C S



    Signed this 30th day of September, 2010.

    Teresa G. Hartley
    Hearing Officer

    End of Document