4 Best Practices for Addressing Musculoskeletal Pain: Physical Therapy Alone Is Not Enough

September 16th, 2021  by  Valerie Black – Director of Behavior Change

Musculoskeletal (MSK) pain is a common issue – some experts believe that as many as one-third of Americans or more suffer from MSK disorders. While MSK pain certainly has a physical element, it is also an indicator of a person’s overall wellbeing.

Some say that MSK health is a barometer of what’s happening within the whole body. Researchers have found that chronic joint inflammation, for example, occurs at the intersection of physical inactivity, stress, a lack of sleep, a pro-inflammatory diet, and other comorbidities. The mind-body connection also plays a central role in MSK pain, since a person’s environment and past experiences can be as influential as physical injuries themselves.

As a result, in-person or digital physical therapy alone isn’t enough to truly treat individuals with MSK disorders. Taking a biopsychosocial approach to MSK care is considered to be the gold standard for treatment. This whole-body approach has three elements:

- Biological. Exercise therapy can reduce chronic pain by up to 60%.

- Psychological. Individuals who have a strong belief in themselves experience lower pain levels, even one to two years after intervention.

- Social. Education has been shown to empower members to overcome chronic pain.

Holistic care for MSK pain recognizes that lifestyle changes are critical for long-lasting recovery. Health coaches who are experts in behavior change are a critical part of the care team. Coaches have deep skills in motivational interviewing, ability building, and adopting new habits, a collaboration which results in higher engagement and care plan adherence.

If whole-body care for MSK pain is done well, it helps individuals and payers avoid invasive and costly care interventions all while selecting the most appropriate path to health for each individual.

Based on our experience at Hinge Health, here are four best practices that we’ve identified:

  1. When it comes to behavior change, small steps and consistency are the keys to success. This is one reason why Hinge Health encourages program participants to engage in 15-minute, bite-sized exercises each day.

  2. Prompts and daily reminders support lasting habit formation. Our health coaches help people create meaningful prompts in their environment and with the help of our technology which keeps them on track.

  3. A customized, multidisciplinary care plan is essential. Each person’s MSK pain is different, so a one-size-fits-all care plan won’t work. In addition to physical therapists and physicians, Hinge Health incorporates board-certified health coaches, nurses, and counselors into multidisciplinary care teams.

  4. Digital MSK solutions make it easy for individuals to access holistic MSK care. People are more likely to engage in new activities and behaviors if the barriers to action are low. Hinge Health’s digital approach to MSK care makes it easy for participants to get started and then maintain treatment momentum. Our advanced motion sensors and wearable pain management devices enable people to participate in exercises and treatment plans outside traditional medical office settings. In addition, these devices generate real-time feedback for the user and data for the care team that informs the care plan.

There is no doubt that MSK conditions are complex and costly. Some payers report that MSK care accounts for 50% of the medical spend for 1% of their member population. We at Hinge Health believe that the key to generating better member outcomes and a better ROI faster is to offer a combination of behavioral and physical health support through care teams that use a biopsychosocial approach in combination with advanced technology.

Valerie Black
About the Author

Valerie is the Director of Behavior Change at Hinge Health. Prior to this, she was the Chief Visionary Officer of The Change Agency and co-founded Vera Whole Health, a national provider of integrated medicine through onsite healthcare clinics. Valerie is also a public speaker, author and thought leader for mental, emotional and physical well-being, culture change, and leadership skills.


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