Cost comparison of osteopathic manipulative treatment for patients with chronic low back pain

J Osteopath Med. 2021 Apr 15;121(7):635-642. doi: 10.1515/jom-2020-0238.


Context: Chronic low back pain (cLBP) is the second leading cause of disability in the United States, with significant physical and financial implications. Development of a multifaceted treatment plan that is cost effective and optimizes patients' ability to function on a daily basis is critical. To date, there have been no published prospective studies comparing the cost of osteopathic manipulative treatment to that of standard care for patients with cLBP.

Objectives: To contrast the cost for standard of care treatment (SCT) for cLBP with standard of care plus osteopathic manipulative treatment (SCT + OMT).

Methods: This prospective, observational study was conducted over the course of 4 months with two groups of patients with a diagnosis of cLBP. Once consent was obtained, patients were assigned to the SCT or the SCT + OMT group based on the specialty practice of their physician. At enrollment and after 4 months of treatment, all patients in both groups completed two questionnaires: the 11 point pain intensity numerical scale (PI-NRS) and the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ). Cost data was collected from the electronic medical record of each patient enrolled in the study. Chi-square (χ2Yates) tests for independence using Yates' correction for continuity were performed to compare the results for each group.

Results: There was a total of 146 patients: 71 (48.6%) in the SCT + OMT group and 75 (51.4%) in the SCT group. The results showed no significant differences between the mean total costs for the SCT + OMT ($831.48 ± $553.59) and SCT ($997.90 ± $1,053.22) groups. However, the utilization of interventional therapies (2; 2.8%) and radiology (4; 5.6%) services were significantly less for the SCT + OMT group than the utilization of interventional (31; 41.3%) and radiology (17; 22.7%) therapies were for the SCT group (p<0.001). Additionally, the patients in the SCT + OMT group were prescribed fewer opioid medications (15; 21.1) than the SCT (37; 49.3%) patients (p.001). Patients in the SCT group were approximately 14.7 times more likely to have received interventional therapies than patients in the SCT + OMT group. Likewise, the patients in the SCT group were approximately four times more likely to have received radiological services. Paired t tests comparing the mean pre- and 4 month self reported pain severity scores on the RMDQ for 68 SCT + OMT patients (9.91 ± 5.88 vs. 6.40 ± 5.24) and 66 SCT patients (11.44 ± 6.10 vs. 8.52 ± 6.14) found highly significant decreases in pain for both group (<0.001).

Conclusions: The mean total costs for the SCT and SCT + OMT patients were statistically comparable across 4 months of treatment. SCT + OMT was comparable to SCT alone in reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic low back pain; however, there was less utilization of opioid analgesics, physical therapy, interventional therapies, radiologic, and diagnostic services for patients in the SCT + OMT group.

Keywords: OMT; chronic pain; disability; low back pain; opioid; osteopathic manipulative treatment.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain* / therapy
  • Manipulation, Osteopathic*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States