BackacheManaging and controlling health care expenditures is a top priority.  Multiple comorbidities in the aging population has become more prevalent likely because of the extended lifespan experienced in the U.S. over the last few decades.  It is estimated that more than sixty percent of Americans over age 65 have multiple chronic conditions, and twenty-three percent of Medicare beneficiaries have 5 or more chronic conditions.

Patients with chronic low back pain (cLBP) have been thought to present to our offices with high prevalence of psychological, somatoform, and musculoskeletal comorbidity. The persistence of LBP may contribute to the development of these disorders and comorbidities have also been associated with poor outcome of LBP. Additionally, patients with comorbidities present with worse physical and psychosocial functioning, poorer response to treatment, and higher rates of health care utilization than other patients suffering from LBP.

The care of individuals with chronic conditions is estimated to account for 78% of US healthcare spending, and Medicare beneficiaries with more than 1 chronic condition account for 95% of all Medicare spending.  Not surprisingly, those with more than 5 chronic conditions account for 66% of Medicare spending. The probability that patients will use expensive health care such as hospital care increases substantially when there are comorbidities.

The rising prevalence of low back pain (LBP) among Medicare beneficiaries, the growing costs of its treatment, and the high use and costs of prescription drugs suggest an essential need to identify suitable, cost-effective, non-drug, non-surgical treatments for older patients with LBP.

Most LBP in older adults can be managed non-surgically.  Randomized controlled clinical trials have shown that chiropractic manipulative treatment (CMT) is an effective, conservative treatment option for LBP. With this in mind, the authors wanted to explore whether older Medicare fee-for service beneficiaries with an episode of LBP and multiple comorbidities who obtained CMT during their episode had lower costs than those who did not.


This study was an observational, retrospective study that used Medicare fee-for-service data from 2006 to 2012 to identify older (aged 66 to 99) patients who had a discrete episode of cLBP.  The episode was defined as lasting at least 90 days and was preceded and followed by 180 days in which no LBP diagnosis was noted.  Additionally, each patient also had an additional musculoskeletal disorder diagnosis and a mental health disorder. If a patient had multiple episodes during the study period, only the first episode was included in the analysis.

The study included 4 groups of patients who used: 1) only CMT; 2) conventional medical care followed by CMT; 3) CMT followed by conventional medical care; and 4) only conventional medical care.

For these 4 treatment groups, the authors used un-weighted and propensity-score weighted inflation- and price-adjusted Medicare Part A, B, and D reimbursements during the episode.  Propensity scoring is a powerful tool to strengthen causal inferences drawn from observational studies. Propensity scoring helps in selecting similar patient groups for comparison. Medicare Part A covers hospital, skilled nursing facility, home health and hospice care expenditures. Medicare Part B covers doctors’ services and other outpatient expenditures; and Medicare Part D covers prescription medications. Particular attention was given to Part B reimbursements for chiropractic care, psychiatric care, physical therapy care, and spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) provided by doctors of osteopathy (DOs) as well as to Part D reimbursements for pain medications.

The study also looked at rate of spine surgery within 1 year of the end of the episode as well as compound rates of growth for price and inflation-adjusted Medicare expenditures. In addition, the study examined expenditures for psychiatric visits and pain medications.


  • Medicare reimbursements during the cLBP treatment episode were lowest for patients who used CMT alone
  • CMT only patients had higher rates of healthcare use for low back pain but lower rates of back surgery in the year following the treatment episode
  • Costs were greatest for patients receiving medical care alone
  • Patients who used only CMT had the lowest annual growth rates in almost all Medicare expenditure categories
  • Patients who used only CMT had the lowest Part A and Part B expenditures per episode day, although there was no indication of lower psychiatric or pain medication expenditures associated with CMT

Key Points:

  • Among older, multiply-comorbid Medicare beneficiaries with a chronic low back pain episode, chiropractic manipulative treatment was associated with lower overall episode costs and lower episode costs per day
  • Use of CMT was associated with lower total Part A and Part D Medicare cost growth for multiply-comorbid patients with chronic low back pain episodes over the course of the study period
  • The authors found overall Medicare cost-savings associated with use of chiropractic care
  • There was no evidence of lower psychiatric or pain medication expenditures associated with CMT

Source: Weeks WB, Leininger B, Whedon JM, Lurie JD, Tosteson TD, Swenson R, O’Malley AJ, Goertz CM. The Association Between Use of Chiropractic Care and Costs of Care Among Older Medicare Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain and Multiple Comorbidities. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2016 Feb 19. pii: S0161-4754(16)00007-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2016.01.006.

back pain chiropractic

Up to 84% of the general population has been found to report low back pain (LBP) symptoms at some point during their lifetime.  Another staggering fact is that low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting nearly one in ten people. Not surprisingly then, back pain is the second most common symptom-related reason for clinician visits in the United States.

The costs for spinal conditions continue to rise. Consider that back pain has substantial recurrence rates that may affect 40% to 50% of patients within 6 months and 70% within 12 months.  Current evidence suggests that the natural history of LBP is alike chronic conditions such as asthma, marked by chronic mild symptoms and periodic exacerbations. These developments have highlighted that LBP is a priority for employers focusing on workforce health and productivity (H&P).  Employers are seeking to maximize the ratio of outcomes achieved relative to costs incurred (ie, value) for the investments that they are making in their employees.  Furthermore, employers are in the unique position of being able to determine what treatments actually cost and how effective they are in their workforce.

The authors of this article point out that previous research has found that patients receiving chiropractic care have lower associations of probability of disability recurrence than patients of physicians and physical therapists.  They also state that early use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been linked to prolonged disability, higher costs, and greater use of surgery without evidence of benefit on health and function.

The goals of this study were to assess the cost outcomes of treatment approaches to care for back problems in a major self-insured workforce, using published guidelines to focus on low back pain.

—The study involved a retrospective time series analysis of tracked episodes of three types of ICD-9 code–identified back problems (n = 14,787) during 2001 to 2009 from a Fortune 500 company.

—The sample consisted of back pain episodes stratified into 3 groups:
#1: LBP (low back pain) with neurologic findings  (LBP/neuro) (n=1837)
#2: LBP with no neurologic findings (LBP/nonneuro) (n=8569)
#3: Other back (n=4381)

Of all employees, 39.4% of employees had at least one back pain episode and many had multiple episodes of LBP.  Total costs (direct/indirect) per employee were calculated per year.

Results indicated that 5 overall episode treatment patterns emerged (overall sample percentage in parentheses):

  1. Information and Advice (TalkInfo): simple office visits, lab tests, emergency department or hospital visits, talk therapy, or visits involving imaging (59%).
  2. Complex Medical Management (Complex MM): visits for nerve blocks, surgeries, or comparable procedures. Any ties with other categories went to this category (2%).
  3. Chiropractic (Chiro): number of visits to a chiropractor was greater than 1 and comprised the plurality or greater of procedures. This included cases involving manipulation billed as PT if the manipulation occurred on the same day (11%).
  4. Physical therapy (PT): number of visits to a PT was greater than 1 and comprised the plurality or greater of procedures. Physical therapy by itself (no chiropractor) sometimes included devices or other palliative treatments (11%).
  5. Dabble: at most one visit for physician, chiropractic, or PT care, or at most one visit to two or more of these categories (17%).

—The chiropractic group had the lowest prescription medication rates, least costs per episode of low back pain, and least guideline-incongruent use of medications and imaging.  —The chiropractic group also was the least likely to receive complex medical procedures like surgeries. —Complex medical management costs were greater than 4 times more expensive for an episode of low back pain (over 3 years) with neurological findings than chiropractic care ($6983.82 vs $28,231.5).  —Physical therapy costs were more than double per episode of low back pain (over 3 years) with neurological findings compared with chiropractic care ($6983.82 vs $17,193.92). —Similar cost savings in favor of chiropractic were found for an episode of low back pain (over 3 years) without neurological findings (chiropractic care = $6768.43, complex medical management = $29,344.25, physical therapy = $13,448.82).

Of note is that the complex medical management approach recorded the highest rates of prescription fills for opiods, other pain medications, SSRI/SNRI/tricyclics, and anxiolytics/sedatives/hypnotics.  The PT group had the highest rates for NSAIDs, muscle relaxant, and oral steroids.

Reference: Tracking low back problems in a major self-insured workforce: toward improvement in the patient’s journey. Allen H, Wright M, Craig T, Mardekian J, Cheung R, Sanchez R, et al.  J Occup Environ Med. 2014;56(6):604-20.


Low Back PainStatistics tell us that up to 84% of the general population will report low back pain (LBP) symptoms at some point during their lifetime.  This leads employers seeking to maximize the ratio of outcomes achieved relative to costs incurred (ie, value) for the investments that they are making in their employees. Previous research has found that patients receiving chiropractic care have been found to record lower associations of probability of disability recurrence than patients of physicians and physical therapists.  Given these findings, the authors of this newly published article sought to assess the cost outcomes of treatment approaches to care for back problems in a major self-insured workforce, using published guidelines to focus on low back pain. Results of the study were that care congruent with 10 of 11 guidelines was linked to lower total costs. Of the five patterns of care, complex medical management reported the highest guideline-incongruent use of imaging, surgeries, and medications and had the highest health care costs.  On the other hand, chiropractic reported the lowest rates of guideline-incongruent use of imaging, surgeries, and medications and had the lowest health care costs.