Not only is low back pain a musculoskeletal condition that will affect nearly everyone at least once in their lifetime, but it also accounts for a significant portion of all healthcare expenditures. When an individual experiences low back pain, they have a variety of treatment options, including chiropractic care. While there is an abundance of literature available on the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for the low back pain patient, perhaps just as interesting is the cost and societal benefits associated with chiropractic management of low back pain.
Past research has shown that greater access to chiropractic care is linked to a lower reliance on primary care services for treatment for a condition like low back pain, which is handy as experts predict a severe shortage of primary care physicians in the near future. But is the inverse true, does reduced access to chiropractic lead to greater utilization of primary care?
In a 2019 study, researchers examined Medicare claim data concerning nearly 40,000 older adult chiropractic patients who moved to an area with less access to chiropractic care. The research team observed that following their move, the seniors were more likely to visit their primary care physician for spine conditions, which can lead to potentially harmful opioid prescriptions, unwarranted testing, and invasive procedures, including surgery. This equated to an additional cost of nearly $115,000 per 1,000 beneficiaries on medical services or $391 million nationally.
In another study, researchers looked at the healthcare costs and utilization of 2.5 million adults with low back pain and leg pain. They found that 1.2% received surgery and these patients accounted for 29.3% of all healthcare costs among the study population. The data also show that many of the patients who received non-surgical care underwent advanced imaged within 30 days of diagnosis and/or without an initial trial of hands-on care (like chiropractic care), which is contrary to treatment guidelines. A 2022 study that looked at low back pain patient experiences found that 41.7% who underwent back surgery had minimal non-pharmaceutical, non-operative treatment in the six months before their operation.
BOTTOM LINE: The current research suggests that greater access to chiropractic care not only provides large cost savings to the public and private insurance agencies, but patients who utilize chiropractic care for low back pain are less likely to receive treatment that may be less effective and may carry greater risks for adverse side effects.