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Are conservative care approaches to pain management included in your health benefits strategy? If you want to reduce your health care costs in the area of orthopedics, it’s time to give chiropractic services a second look.

According to combined analysis of two U.S. national surveys, lower back pain is the most common occupational injury in the United States.

Conservative approaches to musculoskeletal pain, such as chiropractic services, can often be an effective first option before initiating higher-risk options such as opioid prescription painkillers.  Guidelines, such as the one from the American College of Physicians in 2017, state that clinicians should only consider opioids after conservative management has failed.

When should you consider seeking care from a chiropractor?

If you are experiencing post exercise or activity soreness, wait a few days to see if the pain goes away. If the pain is severe, due to trauma and includes bleeding or swelling – seek care with a medical physician. But if the pain is moderate and is interfering with day-to-day activities, chiropractic care may give you faster relief at a lower cost with less pharmaceutical prescriptions.

A 2012 National Health Interview survey of over 34,000 chiropractic patients showed back pain and neck pain were the most common health concerns resulting in chiropractic consultations. The majority of respondents in this survey reported chiropractic care “helping a great deal with their health problem and improving overall health or well-being.”

What to Expect On Your First Visit to a Doctor of Chiropractic

A Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), also known as a Chiropractor, will start an initial visit by reviewing your medical history, performing a physical examination and reviewing any test results that may have already been done.

Chiropractors are trained to make a differential diagnosis. They are educated in nationally accredited, four-year doctoral graduate school programs.

Chiropractors are required by law to refer a patient to a general physician or other medical specialist when needed. However, most musculoskeletal pain cases are simple and straightforward and can be addressed by a chiropractor.

Chiropractors have many different options available to treat patients. The most common treatment to achieve the goal of functional restoration is known as a chiropractic adjustment.

This treatment is typically not painful, but may produce a popping sound as some of the joint fluid changes from a liquid into a gas bubble and later will return back to liquid form.

I usually do a mock-demonstration for first-time patients to give a clearer idea of what a chiropractic adjustment is like. I explain that their joint is “stuck” and a quick push into the restricted joint will help loosen up that joint and begin the process of restoring normal range of motion.

Muscle work directly by hand or by using simple tools as well as muscle stimulation therapy are also common chiropractic options. These are used to relax a tightened muscle and break up trigger points.

A chiropractor may also prescribe exercises for stretching or strengthening to do at home.

Chiropractic Treatment Length

Every case is different, but it has been my experience that 80 to 90 percent of the patients that I’ve seen required care lasting between two weeks and two months in order to relieve their pain.

Pain relief is part of the goal, but returning to normal function (or as normal as possible) is the ultimate goal. Many of my patients want to be able to return to doing normal, everyday activities such as sitting down, standing up or bending over to tie their shoes. An ethical chiropractor treats pain where appropriate and refers patients to medical specialists when needed.

A Patient’s Story

One of my patients was a young man who hurt himself at work. He had debilitating, severe back pain that made it impossible for him to stand up straight.

He told me that his goal was to drive to New York, get down on one knee and propose marriage to his girlfriend. After two weeks of chiropractic treatments, he was able to do just that.

Advice for Employers

Many back, neck and tension headache pains can be addressed effectively, with conservative care options, such as chiropractic services, physical therapy, acupuncture, etc.

There is a growing body of research showing that not only is chiropractic management effective at relieving pain and restoring function, but it is more cost effective than other treatment approaches with a real reduction in opioid prescriptions.

Chiropractors can also consult with employers at the worksite to suggest improvements to workplace safety and efficiencies.

Read more about chiropractic care and other alternative ways to manage pain.

Consider Incentivizing Your Health Benefits Plan

Consider incentivizing your health benefits plan to encourage conservative care options, first.

As a self-funded employer, you have the opportunity to make modifications to your health benefits plan and encourage (or incentivize) your enrollees to consider seeking conservative care options, such as chiropractic care, first.

When you incentivize, you will not only reduce your costs for care but you will also reduce the potential for opioid prescriptions. This in turn will reduce the amount of people who misuse, become addicted to or die from opioids. Help your employees avoid an opioid prescription unless absolutely necessary.

Here are some ideas for employers and Human Resource benefit managers to be more creative with their health benefits strategies to encourage conservative care options:

  • Waiving the deductible
  • Reducing or waiving co-pays, or
  • Lowering the maximum amount of co-pays/co-insurance.

Your employees will have fewer lost work days. Fewer surgeries. And better outcomes.


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Benefit Plan Design


Members & Employers Most Popular Articles
Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald
Guest Blogger, Vice President at Human Resources, Safety & Communication at Foremost Farms, USA

McDonald was the V.P. of Human Resources, Safety and Communications at Foremost Farms USA responsible for all Human Resources initiatives, safety and health leadership, and internal and external communications for the $1.4 billion cooperative. He has aggressively pursued the continued introduction of consumer-driven health care. He served on The Alliance Board of Directors in 2008.

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