Low back pain (LBP) is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and among the most common reasons for seeking primary sector care. Chiropractors, physical therapists and general practitioners are among those providers that treat LBP patients, but there is only limited evidence regarding the effectiveness and economic evaluation of care offered by these provider groups. The purpose of this study was to estimate the clinical effectiveness and to systematically review the literature of full economic evaluation of chiropractic care compared to other commonly used care approaches among adult patients with non-specific LBP. A comprehensive search strategy was conducted to identify 1) pragmatic randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and/or 2) full economic evaluations of chiropractic care for low back pain compared to standard care delivered by other healthcare providers. Studies published between 1990 and 4th June 2015 were considered. Primary outcomes included pain, functional status and global improvement. Study selection, critical quality appraisal and data extraction were conducted by two independent reviewers. Data from RCTs with low risk of bias were included in a meta-analysis to determine effect estimates. Cost estimates of full economic evaluations were converted to 2015 USD and results summarized using Slavin’s qualitative best-evidence synthesis. Six RCTs and three full economic evaluations were scientifically admissible. Five RCTs with low risk of bias compared chiropractic care to exercise therapy (n = 1), physical therapy (n = 3) and medical care (n = 1). Overall, we found similar effects for chiropractic care and the other types of care and no reports of serious adverse events. Three low to high quality full economic evaluations studies (one cost-effectiveness, one cost-minimization and one cost-benefit) compared chiropractic to medical care. Given the divergent conclusions (favours chiropractic, favours medical care, equivalent options), mixed-evidence was found for economic evaluations of chiropractic care compared to medical care.
Moderate evidence suggests that chiropractic care for LBP appears to be equally effective as physical therapy. Limited evidence suggests the same conclusion when chiropractic care is compared to exercise therapy and medical care although no firm conclusion can be reached at this time. No serious adverse events were reported for any type of care. Our review was also unable to clarify whether chiropractic or medical care is more cost-effective. Given the limited available evidence, the decision to seek or to refer patients for chiropractic care should be based on patient preference and values. Future studies are likely to have an important impact on our estimates as these were based on only a few admissible studies.