Cost-effectiveness of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Versus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care Among Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2017 Oct 15;42(20):1511-1520. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000002344.


Study design: Economic evaluation alongside a randomized trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) versus usual care alone (UC) for chronic low back pain (CLBP).

Objective: To determine 1-year cost-effectiveness of CBT and MBSR compared to 33 UC.

Summary of background data: CLBP is expensive in terms of healthcare costs and lost productivity. Mind-body interventions have been found effective for back pain, but their cost-effectiveness is unexplored.

Methods: A total of 342 adults in an integrated healthcare system with CLBP were randomized to receive MBSR (n = 116), CBT (n = 113), or UC (n = 113). CBT and MBSR were offered in 8-weekly 2-hour group sessions. Cost-effectiveness from the societal perspective was calculated as the incremental sum of healthcare costs and productivity losses over change in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). The payer perspective only included healthcare costs. This economic evaluation was limited to the 301 health plan members enrolled ≥180 days in the years pre-and postrandomization.

Results: Compared with UC, the mean incremental cost per participant to society of CBT was $125 (95% confidence interval, CI: -4103, 4307) and of MBSR was -$724 (CI: -4386, 2778)-that is, a net saving of $724. Incremental costs per participant to the health plan were $495 for CBT over UC and -$982 for MBSR, and incremental back-related costs per participant were $984 for CBT over UC and -$127 for MBSR. These costs (and cost savings) were associated with statistically significant gains in QALYs over UC: 0.041 (0.015, 0.067) for CBT and 0.034 (0.008, 0.060) for MBSR.

Conclusion: In this setting CBT and MBSR have high probabilities of being cost-effective, and MBSR may be cost saving, as compared with UC for adults with CLBP. These findings suggest that MBSR, and to a lesser extent CBT, may provide cost-effective treatment for CLBP for payers and society.

Level of evidence: 2.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / economics*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / economics*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / economics*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mindfulness / economics*
  • Mindfulness / methods
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Stress, Psychological / economics*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome