Experts Reinforce a Mind-Body Approach to Musculoskeletal Pain

January 15th, 2020  by  Dr. Jonathan Ide-Don, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Bernadette C. is a busy, working mother of three who suffers from chronic lower back pain. More recently, the lower back pain started creeping to her upper back. While Bernadette knew she needed some time-out to relax, stretch, and take care of herself, she found herself shuttling her children from soccer, orchestra, and karate during her weekends, always putting her personal time last. The chronic pain was compounded by fewer and fewer hours of sleep since she was finding it hard to unwind and get off her phone.

Bernadette thought she’d tried everything to reduce her pain, but it wasn’t until she worked with a health coach that she was able to make lifestyle changes that addressed both her stress and need more increased physical activity. Bernadette’s case isn’t unique. As Austin Frakt’s recent New York Times article reports, experts are recommending a mind and body approach to break free from chronic musculoskeletal pain.

"All pain is real, but it’s also true that it’s “made by the brain” and that we can exert some control over it."

-Lorimer Moseley, clinical scientist and pain researcher at the University of South Australia

The Old-School Pain Model Has Failed

There is a common misperception that pain stems from one fixable source that is focused on the body. Frakt shared research that when treatments just focus on the physical body, patient outcomes do not improve. Frakt argues that this narrow focus on pain and the physical body is what has perpetuated ineffective treatment plans including overuse of opioids, injections and surgeries.

Thanks to new research, Frakt explains that the old-school point of view is starting to shift. A number of researchers, educators, and practitioners are looking to better understand the pain system.

Research Backs Up the Mind-Body Connection

Expert research recommends addressing both the body and mind for better chronic pain outcomes. As Frakt reports, many factors can ramp up or ramp down the intensity of the pain we experience. For example, Lorimer Moseley, a clinical scientist and pain researcher, showed that pain intensity could not predict the severity of the injury. In extreme examples, people felt pain - even without tissue damage. Another researcher specializing in chronic pain and injury rehab, Paul Ingraham, consistently found that anxiety and stress exacerbate pain.

New Mind-Body Treatment Models for Chronic Pain

Mind-body approaches were found to be more effective than body-focused treatments alone, in a recent review of 202 non-drug clinical trials by The Agency for Health Research and Quality. Examples of mind-body approaches include exercise therapy, stress reduction, deep breathing, lifestyle change, patient education, mindfulness techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Employers are Implementing Mind-Body Approaches for Better Clinical Outcomes

Bernadette was able to follow a mind-body approach to reduce her chronic back pain because of Hinge Health, a coach-led digital care program offered by her employer that includes sensor-guided exercise therapy, behavioral health, and patient education. Bernadette shared that after her pain decreased, she was more productive at work and she’s relieved to no longer be considering expensive back surgery. Bernadette shared that her health coach was an essential accountability partner as she made lifestyle changes to increase physical activity, incorporate daily meditation, and to form better sleep habits.

"With Hinge Health, I learned both how to move, and just as importantly, I learned how to find the time to move more!"

-Bernadette C., Hinge Health back program participant

As Frakt’s New York Times article and Bernadette’s story demonstrate, a mind-body approach is essential for chronic pain care. Download this whitepaper to learn more about how both mental health and chronic pain are connected and what today’s employers are doing to improve their workforce’s clinical outcomes and productivity.

Dr. Jonathan Ide-Don, Doctor of Physical Therapy

About the Author

Jonathan received his undergraduate degree in Physiological Science at UCLA and his Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy at UCSF. Now, Jonathan is a Senior Physical Therapy Consultant at Hinge Health as well as the co-owner of Ide-Don Physical Therapy. He is a devoted husband and father, and in his free time enjoys being active through running and weight training.

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