The economic burden of guideline-recommended first line care for acute low back pain

Chung Wei Christine Lin*, Qiang Li, Christopher M. Williams, Christopher G. Maher, Richard O. Day, Mark J. Hancock, Jane Latimer, Andrew J. Mclachlan, Stephen Jan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To report health care costs and the factors associated with such costs in people with acute low back pain receiving guideline-recommended first line care.

Methods: This is a secondary analysis of a trial which found no difference in clinical outcomes. Participants with acute low back pain received reassurance and advice, and either paracetamol (taken regularly or as needed) or placebo for up to 4 weeks and followed up for 12 weeks. Data on health service utilisation were collected by self-report. A health sector perspective was adopted to report all direct costs incurred (in 2015 AUD, 1 AUD = 0.53 Euro). Costs were reported for the entire study cohort and for each group. Various baseline clinical, demographic, work-related and socioeconomic factors were investigated for their association with increased costs using generalised linear models. Results: The mean cost per participant was AUD167.74 (SD = 427.24) for the entire cohort (n = 1365). Most of these costs were incurred in primary care through visits to a general practitioner or physiotherapist. Compared to the placebo group, there was an increase in cost when paracetamol was taken. Multivariate analysis showed that disability, symptom duration and compensation were associated with costs. Receiving compensation was associated with a twofold increase compared to not receiving compensation.

Conclusions: Taking paracetamol as part of first line care for acute low back pain increased the economic burden. Higher disability, longer symptom duration and receiving compensation were independently associated with increased health care costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109–116
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Spine Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • costs and cost analysis
  • health care costs
  • low back pain
  • paracetamol


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