Background: It is well-known that the number of physical therapy treatment sessions varies over treatment episodes. Information is lacking, however, on the source and explanation of the variation. The purposes of the current study are: 1) to determine how the variance in the number of physical therapy treatment sessions in patients with non-specific low back pain (LBP) in the Netherlands is distributed over patient level, therapist level and practice level; and 2) to determine the factors that explain the variance.
Methods: Data were used from a national registration network on physical therapy. Our database contained information on 1,733 patients referred with LBP, treated by 97 therapists working in 41 practices. The variation in the number of treatment sessions was investigated by means of multilevel regression analyses.
Results: Eighty-eight per cent of the variation in the number of treatment sessions for patients with LBP is located at patient level and seven per cent is located at practice level. It was possible to explain thirteen per cent of all variance. The duration of the complaint, prior therapy, and the patients' age and gender in particular are related to the number of physical therapy treatment sessions.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that the number of physical therapy treatment sessions in patients with LBP mainly depends on patient characteristics. More variation needs to be explained, however, to improve the transparency of care. Future research should examine the contribution of psychosocial factors, baseline disability, and the ability to learn motor behavior as possible factors in the variation in treatment sessions.