Sunday, 12 September 2010 18:49

Work Injuries, Workers Compensation and Chiropractic: A solution to the spiraling healthcare costs in America

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Published in the 9-9-2010 Dynamic Chiropractic Journal

Work Injuries, Workers Compensation and Chiropractic:

A solution to lowering health care costs in America


A report on the scientific literature 

by Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP

The cost of healthcare has been such a burden on the economy that it now accounts for 16.2% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) in 20081. Congress, along with President Obama, has recently enacted a health care reform bill that addresses many issues in the health care reform arena that will ensure every American has health care coverage. Leaving politics aside, there is a potential that the percentage of health care costs in the GDP will rise.
With mushrooming annual budgets that include multi-billion dollar shortfalls, most individual states are now pressured to cut costs and prevent unnecessary spending. One of the largest areas of expenditure in every state’s budget is health care through workers compensation and Medicaid. If those governments put politics aside and look at the hard numbers, they will see chiropractic as a solution. It appears that chiropractic care has continued to be a political football and has been seen as a scapegoat to many of our states’ health care financial problems.
One political argument in California during the quest to remove chiropractic from the workers compensation system was that chiropractors pander to lawyers who want higher fees to win their cases. This detractor, an MD with a long anti-chiropractic history should realize, as should the California legislature, that there will always be a certain number of unscrupulous people in any system and that number is equal among medical doctors and chiropractors alike. The problem is that this should not be a political argument. It should be guided by the statistics alone and the metrics of health care outcomes and the financial savings should be solely judged.
As to the health care metric, that argument is long over, as chiropractic has been proven effective and a topic long laid to rest. The cost metric has to go beyond the simple office visit to the orthopedist or medical back care provider. The real costs accrue cover the medical office visits and the drugs which are often used over a lifetime and consequently, one must often deal with the addiction to the narcotics. The metric covers durable medical equipment, physical therapy and all of the associated ancillary requirements followed by the surgeries and high cost of hospital stays. Then we need to account for the lifetime of disabilities that could have been avoided. Every one of those costs needs to be accounted for.
With that being said, there are many times medical intervention and all of its wonderful tools are needed because no one doctor can care for every ailment. However, the progression of treatment should be drugless first, drug administration used second and surgery as a last resort. In states like California, the less expensive, largest, most effective drugless option is no longer available to its residents. In other states like New York, the reimbursement is so low that chiropractors are emigrating from the state in alarming numbers, leaving a void for injured people to seek appropriate care and lower the cost of health care reducing the financial burden to the NYS workers compensation system.
An obvious pragmatic strategy would be utilizing services for injured workers that have been proven to be more effective at lower costs. Past history would suggest that if such a method was identified, tax credits or other incentives could be offered to ensure workers received this care, thereby reducing costs to the system and creating a more competitive business environment.
Chiropractic care has been shown repeatedly in government and private studies conducted around the world to be more effective at helping injured workers return to work faster at significantly lower costs. (See Table 1.)
Samples of research showing the effectiveness and reduced costs of chiropractic care for spinal-related injuries and conditions.


UtahWorkers  Compensation Board
Total treatment costs for back-related injuries averaged $775.30 per case when treated by a chiropractor; $1,665.43 when injured workers
received standard medical treatment.
North Carolina Workers Compensation Patients3  
Average medical care cost for lumbosacral sprain was $3,425, but only $634 when treated with chiropractic.
Ministry of Health,
“Inured workers…diagnosed with low-back pain returned to work much sooner when treated by chiropractors than by physicians."
The American Journal
of Managed Care5
The cost of healthcare for back and neck pain was substantially lower for chiropractic patients than medical care ($539 versus $774).
Medical Care Journal6  

  1. The mean total payments were lower for chiropractic care ($518) versus medical care ($1020).
  2. Favorable satisfaction and quality indicators suggest that chiropractic deserves careful consideration in gate keeper strategies adopted by employers and third-party payers to control health care spending.
Universityof Ottawa7  

  1. Chiropractic treatment was significantly more effective than hospital outpatient treatment, especially in patients with chronic and severe back pain. Significantly fewer patients needed to return for further treatments at the end of the first and second years in those who received chiropractic care (17% compared with 24%).
  2. Highly significant cost savings if more management of low-back pain was transferred from physicians to chiropractors.
OaklandUniversityStudy8 Health insurance claims for 395,641 chiropractic and medical care patients concluded patients who receive chiropractic care, solely or in conjunction with medical care, experienced significantly lower health care costs compared with those who received only medical care. Total insurance payments were 30% higher for those who elected medical care only.
of Virginia9
By every test of cost and effectiveness, the general weight of evidence shows chiropractic to provide important therapeutic benefits, at economical costs. Additionally, these benefits are achieved with apparently minimal, even negligible, impacts on the costs of health insurance.
FloridaWorkers Compensation Board10  
Of 10,652 back-related injuries on the job, individuals who received chiropractic care compared with standard medical care experienced had a (i) 51.3 percent shorter temporary total disability duration (ii) lower treatment cost by 58.8 percent ($558 vs. $1,100 per case) (iii) 20.3 percent hospitalization rate in the chiropractic care group vs. 52.2 percent rate in the medical care group.
Australian Workers Compensation Study11  
Individuals who received chiropractic care for their back pain returned to work 4 times faster (6.26 days vs. 25.56 days) and had treatment that cost 4 times less ($392 vs. $1,569) than those who received treatments from medical doctors.
VU Medical Center Extramural Medicine12  
Total costs of manual therapy (447 Euro) were around one third of the costs of physiotherapy (1297 Euro) and general practitioner care (1379 Euro) for neck pain.
Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapy13  
For the treatment of low back and neck pain, the inclusion of a chiropractic benefit resulted in a reduction in the rates of surgery, advanced imaging, inpatient care, and plain-film radiographs.
As a result of these studies and many more nationally and globally, governments, both federal and state, should be offering tax incentives for our brightest young minds entering the health care educational arena to become chiropractors and urging every injured citizen of the United States to be under chiropractic care because it works and saves the system money. The hard part is getting the legislators to see through the special interests to the facts. Fair and equitable access and reimbursement to chiropractors serves the needs of the millions of chiropractic patients nationally as well as affording fiscal savings for the government.  It is also in the best interest of all to keep the existing chiropractors and encourage new chiropractic practices in the business place.
It’s not the chiropractors who want to be treated different; it’s the people who are being denied the care they need and the government who is epitomizing the adage of being “penny wise and billions of dollars foolish.” These studies and more indicate that chiropractic saves every system in the world money by having a prominent place and if governments put rhetoric aside and opened their eyes, they would fight to lower the GDP by offering incentives to any injured person who sought chiropractic care.

  1. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. U.S. Health Care Costs. Retrieved from
  2. Jarvis, K. B., Phillips, R. B., Morris, E. K. (1991, August). Cost per case comparison of back injury claims of chiropractic versus medical management for conditions with identical diagnostic codes. Journal of Occupational Medicine, 33(8), 847-852.
  3. Devitt, M. (2004, November 18) Work comp study: chiropractic less expensive, more effective than medical care.Dynamic Chiropractic,22(24). Retrieved from
  4. Meade, T. W., Dyer, S., Browne, W., Townsend, J., & Frank, A. O. (1990, June 2). Low back pain of mechanical origin: randomized comparison of chiropractic and hospital outpatient treatment.British Medical Journal, 300(6737),1431-1437.  
  5. Mosley, C. D., Cohen, I. G., & Arnold, R. M. (1996, March).Cost-effectiveness of chiropractic care in a managed care setting.The American Journal of Managed Care, 2, 280-282.
  6. Stano, M. & Smith, M. (1996, March). Chiropractic and medical costs of low back pain. Medical Care, 34(3), 191-204. 
  7. Manga, P., Angus, D. E., Papadopoulos, C. & Swan, W.R. (1993, August). The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of chiropractic management of low-back pain. Retrieved from 0/Manga_report_summary%5B1%5D.pdf
  8. Stano, M. Stano/Medstat Research. Retrieved from pages/rightpages_allaboutchiro/research/research_costeffectiveness.html
  9. Dean, D. H., Schmidt, R. M. (1992, January 13). A comparison of the costs of chiropractors versus alternative medical practitioners.Retrieved from costeffectiveness.html
  10.  Wolk, S. (1988). An analysis of florida workers’ compensation medical claims for back related injuries. Retrieved from rightpages_allaboutchiro/research/research_costeffectiveness.html
  11. Ebrall, P.S. (1992). Mechanical low-back pain: a comparison of medical and chiropractic management within the victorian work care scheme.Chiropractic Journal of Australia 22, 47-53.
  12. Korthals-de Bos I. B. C., Hoving J. L., van Tulder, M. W., Rutten-van Molken M. P. M. H., Adèr, H.J., de Vet, H. C. W., Koes, B. W., Vondeling, H., & Bouter L. M. (2003, April 26). Cost effectiveness of physiotherapy, manual therapy, and general practitioner care for neck pain: economic evaluation alongside a randomised controlled trial.British Medical Journal, 326(7395), 911.
  13. Nelson, C.F., Metz, R.D. & LaBrot, T. (2005, October). Effects of a managed chiropractic benefit on the use of specific diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in the treatment of low back and neck pain.Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics,28(8), 564-569.

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