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At a Glance:
August 26, 2011


August 26, 2011


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 August 26, 2011 to decide the following disputed issue:

  1. Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the IRO that the claimant is not entitled to physical therapy lumbar times 12 visits for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury)?


Petitioner/Claimant appeared and was assisted by NP, ombudsman. Respondent/Carrier appeared and was represented by PB, attorney.


Claimant sustained a compensable injury, including injury to his low back, on (Date of Injury). He completed at least nine sessions of physical therapy and was returned to work with restrictions. Dr. G, a chiropractor, requested pre-authorization for an additional 12 sessions of physical therapy for the low back injury. The IRO doctor, a chiropractor, upheld the previous denials.

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 provides the following concerning physical therapy for a low back injury:

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)

Post Epidural Steroid Injections: ESIs are currently recommended as a possible option for short-term treatment of radicular pain (sciatica), defined as pain in dermatomal distribution with corroborative findings of radiculopathy. The general goal of physical therapy during the acute/subacute phase of injury is to decrease guarding, maintain motion, and decrease pain and inflammation. Progression of rehabilitation to a more advanced program of stabilization occurs in the maintenance phase once pain is controlled. There is little evidence-based research that addresses the use of physical therapy post ESIs, but it appears that most randomized controlled trials have utilized an ongoing, home directed program post injection. Based on current literature, the only need for further physical therapy treatment post ESI would be to emphasize the home exercise program, and this requirement would generally be included in the currently suggested maximum visits for the underlying condition, or at least not require more than 2 additional visits to reinforce the home exercise program. ESIs have been found to have limited effectiveness for treatment of chronic pain. The claimant should continue to follow a home exercise program post injection. (Luijesterburg, 2007) (Luijsterburg2, 2007) (Price, 2005) (Vad, 2002) (Smeal, 2004)

Post-surgical (discectomy) rehab: A recent Cochrane review concluded that exercise programs starting 4-6 weeks post-surgery seem to lead to a faster decrease in pain and disability than no treatment; high intensity exercise programs seem to lead to a faster decrease in pain and disability than low intensity programs; home exercises are as good as supervised exercises; and active programs do not increase the re-operation rate. Although it is not harmful to return to activity after lumbar disc surgery, it is still unclear what exact components should be included in rehabilitation programs. High intensity programs seem to be more effective but they could also be more expensive. Another question is whether all patients should be treated post-surgery or is a minimal intervention with the message return to an active lifestyle sufficient, with only patients that still have symptoms 4 to 6 weeks post-surgery requiring rehabilitation programs. (Ostelo, 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

Lumbago; Backache, unspecified (ICD9 724.2; 724.5):

9 visits over 8 weeks

Intervertebral disc disorders without myelopathy (ICD9 722.1; 722.2; 722.5; 722.6; 722.8):

Medical treatment: 10 visits over 8 weeks

Post-injection treatment: 1-2 visits over 1 week

Post-surgical treatment (discectomy/laminectomy): 16 visits over 8 weeks

Post-surgical treatment (arthroplasty): 26 visits over 16 weeks

Post-surgical treatment (fusion, after graft maturity): 34 visits over 16 weeks

Intervertebral disc disorder with myelopathy (ICD9 722.7)

Medical treatment: 10 visits over 8 weeks

Post-surgical treatment: 48 visits over 18 weeks

Spinal stenosis (ICD9 724.0):

10 visits over 8 weeks

See 722.1 for post-surgical visits

Sciatica; Thoracic/lumbosacral neuritis/radiculitis, unspecified (ICD9 724.3; 724.4):

10-12 visits over 8 weeks

See 722.1 for post-surgical visits

Curvature of spine (ICD9 737)

12 visits over 10 weeks

See 722.1 for post-surgical visits

Fracture of vertebral column without spinal cord injury (ICD9 805):

Medical treatment: 8 visits over 10 weeks

Post-surgical treatment: 34 visits over 16 weeks

Fracture of vertebral column with spinal cord injury (ICD9 806):

Medical treatment: 8 visits over 10 weeks

Post-surgical treatment: 48 visits over 18 weeks

Work conditioning (See also Procedure Summary entry):

10 visits over 8 weeks

The IRO doctor thought the requested physical therapy was not medically necessary. The IRO doctor characterized the low back injury as a lumbar sprain, and noted the ODG guidelines provide for 10 sessions of physical therapy for a lumbar sprain, and Claimant already had at least nine sessions. There was some evidence the compensable injury might extend to include a herniated lumbar disc. 10 sessions of physical therapy is the limit provided in the ODG for intervertebral disc disruption (herniated disc) with or without myelopathy. The IRO doctor observed that no clear rationale was provided to support exceeding the ODG guidelines, and no exceptional factors were documented.

Some of Dr. G’s records were offered, and he testified. He gave his personal opinion that Claimant needed the additional therapy to recover to the point he could resume doing his pre-injury job. Claimant also testified, mostly about the mechanism of injury and how the injury affected him. There was no offer of evidence based medicine to overcome the IRO decision. There was no showing of an exception to the ODG guidelines under Appendix D.

There was no objection to the testimony, reports, or qualifications of any doctor.

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:
    1. A.Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.
    2. B. On (Date of Injury) Claimant was the employee of (Employer), Employer.
    3. On (Date of Injury) Employer provided workers’ compensation insurance through Indemnity Insurance Company of North America, Carrier.
    4. On (Date of Injury) Claimant sustained a compensable injury.
    5. The Independent Review Organization determined Claimant should not have the requested treatment.
  • 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.
  • Physical therapy lumbar times 12 visits is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).

    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 physical therapy lumbar times 12 visits is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).


    Claimant is not entitled to physical therapy lumbar times 12 visits for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).


    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 Section 408.021 of the Act.

    The true corporate name of the insurance Carrier is INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY OF NORTH AMERICA, and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is



    (CITY), TEXAS 75201

    Signed this 26th day of August, 2011.

    Thomas Hight
    Hearing Officer

    End of Document