Is Physical Therapy Treatment Cost-Effective for Sciatica?

Sciatica, also known as the lumbrosacral radicular syndrome (LRS) can be a painful and disabling problem. Pressure on the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord can lead to the back and leg pain common with sciatica.

A herniated disc is the most likely cause of LRS. But other problems such as tumors or stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can also cause LRS.

In this study, researchers from the Netherlands examine the cost-effectiveness of physical therapy treatment for sciatica. They compare two groups of patients. All patients had LRS but were divided by treatment.

One group had care with their general practitioner. They were given information and advice. Pain relievers were also prescribed when needed. The second group received physical therapy. The patients in both groups were treated for up to nine sessions over a period of six weeks.

Results were measured by patient survey. Follow-up took place one year after treatment. Questions about symptoms, cost, and perceived benefits were asked and analyzed. The results showed a significant difference between the two groups.

More patients in the physical therapy group reported improvement and satisfaction with the results. The extra direct costs of physical therapy were calculated. The authors concluded that physical therapy added to general care was not more cost-effective when compared with general care alone.

Factors that were not evaluated in this study included time away from work or change in productivity for each group. Further study is needed to assess if the cost of added treatment is valuable from a productivity point-of-view.


Pim A. J. Luijsterburg, PhD, et al. Cost-Effectiveness of Physical Therapy and General Practitioner Care for Sciatica. In Spine. August 15, 2007. Vol. 32. No. 18. Pp. 1942-1948.


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