african american man sitting on couch with back pain due to musculoskeletal conditions

We’re in the midst of a massive health care crisis in the United States that many are not even aware is happening. It’s robbing millions of people across all ages, demographics, and cultures of quality of life and even life itself. As many as one in two adults will experience a musculoskeletal condition. Health care visits for these conditions make up 18% of all health care visits in the United States to the tune of over $200 billion each year!

Examining the Cost of Musculoskeletal Conditions

Musculoskeletal conditions are also the largest cause of lost workdays. Beyond that, there are far-reaching effects on productivity for those who are still working in some capacity. On average, musculoskeletal conditions account for 10 days lost per worker every year.  Lost days increase costs when you look at treatment costs combined with lost productivity and wages.

If we look at the estimated cost in the US of pain in general, estimates range from $560 billion to $635 billion annually. On top of these costs, the US is facing an opioid crisis that can be tied to ineffective management of pain and musculoskeletal conditions. This further drives up costs but sadly also shatters lives from addiction and overdose deaths.

Early, Conservative Care Intervention

There is a better way to manage musculoskeletal conditions. We know that if someone with a musculoskeletal condition receives physical therapy first, they’ll save money, require less physical therapy, incur fewer lost workdays, and most importantly have a better outcome with fewer side effects.

A recent report from the Workers Compensation Research Institute noted that when physical therapy treatment started more than 30 days post-injury, patients were 46% more likely to receive an opioid prescription. They were also 47% more likely to receive an MRI compared to patients who started physical therapy treatment within three days of injury.

Additionally, those who started physical therapy 30 days post-injury versus within 3 days post-injury were 29% more likely to receive pain management injections. They were also 89% more likely to have lower back surgeries.

The average medical cost per claim for workers who had physical therapy more than 30 days post-injury was 24% higher than for those who had physical therapy within three days post-injury.

Finally, people who saw a physical therapist first had 85% decrease in the likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription within the first 30 days after the initial visit compared to those who saw a primary care physician first. Similar findings were seen when the initial visit was with an acupuncturist (91% decrease) or chiropractor (90%), both of which are also considered conservative care providers.

We envision a day when an individual dealing with a musculoskeletal condition like low back pain, neck, shoulder, hip/knee pain has their medical care initiated by a physical therapist, and treatment starts within days of onset. Patients would no longer wait weeks to months for an appointment with a primary care physician appointment, diagnostic tests, or specialist consults while being prescribed pain medications.

The utilization of more conservative care early will bring us to a better day in the management of musculoskeletal conditions.

How SentryHealth Can Help

SentryHealth’s integrated health solution incorporates injury prevention and recovery programs that help people stay healthy and pain-free in a high-quality, affordable way. These programs enable them to take advantage of targeted, evidence-based plans that teach them how to effectively address potential or existing injuries without high-cost treatments and time away from work.

Guest post by Everflex Health, a SentryHealth program partner.

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