Background: Shoulder complaints are common in primary care and have unfavourable long term prognosis. Our objective was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of manipulative therapy of the cervicothoracic spine and the adjacent ribs in addition to usual medical care (UMC) by the general practitioner in the treatment of shoulder complaints.
Methods: This economic evaluation was conducted alongside a randomized trial in primary care. Included were 150 patients with shoulder complaints and a dysfunction of the cervicothoracic spine and adjacent ribs. Patients were treated with UMC (NSAID's, corticosteroid injection or referral to physical therapy) and were allocated at random (yes/no) to manipulative therapy (manipulation and mobilization). Patient perceived recovery, severity of main complaint, shoulder pain, disability and general health were outcome measures. Data about direct and indirect costs were collected by means of a cost diary.
Results: Manipulative therapy as add-on to UMC accelerated recovery on all outcome measures included. At 26 weeks after randomization, both groups reported similar recovery rates (41% vs. 38%), but the difference between groups in improvement of severity of the main complaint, shoulder pain and disability sustained. Compared to the UMC group the total costs were higher in the manipulative group (€1167 vs. €555). This is explained mainly by the costs of the manipulative therapy itself and the higher costs due sick leave from work. The cost effectiveness ratio showed that additional manipulative treatment is more costly but also more effective than UMC alone. The cost-effectiveness acceptability curve shows that a 50%-probability of recovery with AMT within 6 months after initiation of treatment is achieved at €2876.
Conclusion: Manipulative therapy in addition to UMC accelerates recovery and is more effective than UMC alone on the long term, but is associated with higher costs. INTERNATIONAL STANDARD RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL NUMBER REGISTER: ISRCTN11216.