The treatment of neck and low back pain: who seeks care? who goes where?

Med Care. 2001 Sep;39(9):956-67. doi: 10.1097/00005650-200109000-00006.


Background: Neck and low back pain are leading causes of morbidity and health care utilization. However, little is known about the characteristics that differentiate those who seek from those who do not seek health care for their pain.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to: 1) describe health care utilization for neck and back pain; 2) determine the characteristics of individuals seeking health care for neck and back pain; and 3) identify the characteristics of patients who consult medical doctors, chiropractors, or both.

Design: Population-based cross-sectional mailed survey.

Subjects: Subjects were randomly selected adults from the Saskatchewan Health Insurance and Registration File.

Measures: Demographic, socio-economic, general health, comorbidity, health-related-quality-of-life, pain severity and health care utilization data were collected. The main outcome was whether subjects with prevalent neck or low back pain visited a health care provider in the previous month.

Results: Twenty-five percent of individuals with neck or low back pain visited a health care provider. Seeking health care was associated with disabling neck or back pain, digestive disorders, worse bodily pain and worse physical-role-functioning. Compared with medical patients, fewer chiropractic patients lived in rural areas or reported arthritis, but they reported better social and physical functioning. More patients consulting both providers reported disabling neck or back pain.

Conclusions: Individuals seeking care for neck or back pain have worse health status than those who do not seek care. Patients consulting chiropractors alone report fewer comorbidities and are less limited in their activities than those consulting medical doctors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chiropractic / statistics & numerical data
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / epidemiology
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality of Life
  • Saskatchewan / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Specialization
  • Utilization Review*