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Pain Pract. 2014 Sep;14(7):599-606. doi: 10.1111/papr.12116. Epub 2013 Oct 21.

Cost-effectiveness of Acupuncture for Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain.

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  • 1Deloitte Access Economics, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
  • 2National Institute of Complementary Medicine, University of Western Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Cost-effectiveness is a major criterion underpinning decisions in mainstream health care. Acupuncture is increasingly used in patients with chronic lower back pain (LBP), but there is a lack of evidence on cost-effectiveness. The objective of this study was to assess the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in alleviating chronic LBP either alone or in conjunction with standard care compared with patients receiving routine care, and/or sham. To determine effectiveness, we undertook meta-analyses which found a significant improvement in pain in those receiving acupuncture and standard care compared with those receiving standard care alone. For acupuncture and standard care vs. standard care and sham, a weak positive effect was found for weeks 12 to 16, but this was not significant. For acupuncture alone vs. standard care alone, a significant positive effect was found at week 8, but not at weeks 26 or 52. The main outcome parameters for our cost-effectiveness analysis were the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of acupuncture treatment presented as cost (A$) per disability-adjusted life-year (DALY) saved. The WHO benchmark for a very highly cost-effective intervention is one that costs less than gross domestic product per capita per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) gained or DALY averted, or less than around $A52,000 in 2009 (the base year for the analysis). According to this threshold, acupuncture as a complement to standard care for relief of chronic LBP is highly cost-effective, costing around $48,562 per DALY avoided. When comorbid depression is alleviated at the same rate as pain, cost is around $18,960 per DALY avoided. Acupuncture as a substitute for standard care was not found to be cost-effective unless comorbid depression was included. According to the WHO cost-effectiveness threshold values, acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment strategy in patients with chronic LBP.

© 2013 World Institute of Pain.


acupuncture; acupuncture analgesia; back pain; cost-effectiveness; disability-adjusted life-year; low back pain; meta-analysis; quality-adjusted life-year

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