Chronic Pain Solutions Don’t Just Come in Capsules; Here’s What Else Is Working

A recent study suggests that multiple types of treatment are more effective at treating chronic pain.  
By: | October 24, 2019

For years, the medical community has been trying to find an effective treatment that helps patients manage their chronic pain. Drugs from opioids to medical marijuana have been hailed as effective treatments for the condition. 

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While these treatments have tried to be a one-stop cure for chronic pain, new research suggests that managing chronic pain will require more than just drugs. 

“All single treatments have, on average, modest effects in reducing pain, which means that changing, adjusting or combining treatments is often necessary to optimize outcomes,” Kurt Kroenke, professor of medicine at Indiana University and a research scientist at Regenstrief Institute, told the Washington Post.

In a recent study, Kroenke examined two different out-of-office treatments that approach chronic pain from both a physical and psychological standpoint.  

The Study at a Glance

The study divided patients into two groups. The first group used a web-based self-management program that had modules about pain medication, coping with the psychological effects of chronic pain, and cognitive strategies for coping with pain. 

This group used the site to self-report their systems and got regular reminders from the site to complete the modules.

The second group also used the web-based program to manage their treatment, but they also had a nurse who worked with them to manage their care. 

The nurse would contact patients to adjust their medications and would refer them to mental health professionals to help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety which often manifest alongside chronic pain. 

Weekly care management meetings between the nurse and a treating physician also allowed them to develop new treatment approaches for patients who weren’t responding to their current treatment regimens. 

Overall, the study found that continued care that approaches pain from multiple types of treatment was promising. 

Both groups had moderate improvement in their pain and mood symptoms and the group that received help managing their care from a nurse showed more improvement than the group that just used the online portal to manage their care. 

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Chronic Pain

Using a telehealth platform to treat both the physical and psychological aspects of pain isn’t the only way treatments are becoming more interdisciplinary. Medical programs across the country are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to treating chronic pain.

The Cleveland Clinic, for example, has implemented a program called Back on TREK for treating chronic lower back pain, according to the Washington Post

The program uses spine specialists, physical therapists, psychologists and other physicians to help patients treat and manage their pain. It also helps connect patients with similar conditions so that they know they are not alone in their struggles.  

“Part of chronic-pain healing is the shared experience; people with back pain find out they’re not alone in the world — there are other people with the same problem,” Richard W. Rosenquist, chairman of the department of pain management at the Cleveland Clinic, told the Washington Post. 

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Programs at the Duke University Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic and the University of California at San Francisco have adopted integrative medicine practices in some of their treatments for chronic pain and other conditions. 

This approach considers common treatments for pain, such as medication and physical therapy, alongside more non-traditional approaches, like yoga and acupuncture.    

Within the workers’ compensation industry, non-traditional approaches to treating chronic pain are also gaining traction. Virtual reality has taken off as a potential method to treat chronic pain, with nearly 25% of patients reporting a drop in pain levels after a 15 minute VR session. 

States are also becoming more willing to accept non-traditional treatments in workers’ comp. In New York, legislation was passed requiring workers’ comp insurers to cover treatment by an authorized physical therapist, acupuncturist or occupational therapist upon the prescription or referral of an authorized physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. &

Courtney DuChene is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]