Overcoming Chronic Pain: The Hinge Health Clinical Model of Care

July 27th, 2020  by  Dr. Ryan Sharkey, DPT – Doctor of Physical Therapy

As a Physical Therapist, I've seen first hand the debilitating effect chronic pain can have on my patients, their families, and our communities. It’s an epidemic that results in healthcare dollars spent needlessly, lost productivity, and most important of all, lost time with our loved ones. At Hinge Health, I spend my days working to help our participants tackle the complex issues involved with chronic musculoskeletal pain, and help them return to the quality of life they deserve.

It’s estimated 1 in 5 Americans are currently suffering from chronic pain, according to the CDC. You very well may be one of them. These 20% of Americans make up a vast majority of the healthcare dollars spent today. For every 1 dollar an employee spends on a musculoskeletal issue like low back pain, another dollar is spent on lost productivity, according to research published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. Compared to acute pain, research demonstrates chronic pain can become increasingly more costly, often resulting in more healthcare visits and unnecessary surgery.

Chronic pain is difficult, misunderstood, and expensive

As of 2016, chronic musculoskeletal pain cost employers upwards of $380 billion dollars in healthcare costs alone, according to research. But this epidemic goes well beyond dollars and cents. Those who suffer from chronic pain are shown to be three times more likely to develop depression or anxiety and twice as likely to be at risk for suicide. These statistics show that the epidemic of chronic pain goes deeper than the diagnosis, creating a toll that is not only physically difficult, but emotionally exhausting.

These psycho-emotional stressors can create coping strategies that will lead us to seek out unnecessary care. Studies have shown that people suffering from chronic pain tend to utilize the healthcare system 3x more if they develop a passive vs. active coping strategy. This means that on top of the physical symptoms that I treat daily as an expert in musculoskeletal care, there are deep psychological barriers that need to be overcome to start seeing improvement.

Chronic pain demands a human approach

"I do feel more in control because my actions of taking better care of myself result in less back pain, but also less emotional pain! I can do this!" - Hinge Health Participant

Here at Hinge Health, we take a biopsychosocial approach to pain, which research has validated as the gold standard for treatment. Exercise has been shown to reduce pain sensitivity in people with chronic pain by up to 60%. Meanwhile people with low self efficacy tend to seek passive treatment such as resting or taking more medication, leading to 3x more healthcare visits. A high belief in yourself, or “can do” attitude leads to lower pain levels, even at 1 to 2 years after intervention, according to research published in the Journal of Pain Research.

This need for physical movement coupled with the need for support, encouragement, and understanding leads us to think more holistically about the problem. As a clinician, I’ve always loved treating patients with a team approach. Our health coaches work to keep you accountable and find time to do the exercise that will get you back on track. When you combine the clinical expertise of our PT’s with the motivational and behavioral know-how of our health coaches, the sum is clearly greater than its parts. That's why participants complete our program 3x more than the industry average.

Hinge Health’s virtual clinical care model

Hinge Health's Clinical Care Model Physical therapists(PTs) - As a PT, I’m involved in supporting participants throughout the program. I do this through my work with our health coaches, participants, and our wearable sensor technology. Together we create exercises and strategies to get people back to what they love to do. Every exercise in our program is independently reviewed by a PT.

Health Coaches - Our more holistic approach goes beyond physical therapy and adds in an extra layer of behavioral health support. Our Health coaches are trained in behavioral health techniques and provide the motivational support to help participants adhere to the program and implement lasting behavioral and lifestyle changes. Through 1-on-1 virtual coaching, they help support and empower participants every step of the way, resulting in better outcomes. For example, one of our users said to his coach, “It's so helpful when you check in because it gives me that accountability and little nudge I need sometimes!” In short, they are experts in helping participants make the mindset shift from “what can I do” to “I can do it!” After feeling pain relief from the Hinge Health program, the user said, “Thank you for this. I’ll never forget you.”

Digital Technology - Through the use of our motion sensors, our participants are guided through an exercise program enabling them to receive feedback in real-time, and helping them to create the habit of daily movement. Our technology also allows our health coaches and PTs to monitor and track the progress of our participants.

The Hinge Health model - Putting our focus on you

As I mentioned earlier, the clinical model at Hinge Health utilizes a team approach to help our participants not only with their physical ailments, but to support and empower them as well. Our team of health coaches and physical therapists work together with these core values in mind:

  • We treat the whole person. We want to understand you, not just your pain. We believe your pain does not define you.
  • We know movement is medicine. Exercise has been shown to reduce pain sensitivity by 60%. That’s why our physical therapists work directly with both our health coaches and participants to find the best way for you to move, and move well.
  • We know you are busy Between work, family, and your busy life, it can be a challenge to fit in exercise. Our Health Coaches work with you to find solutions that make sense for you within a hectic lifestyle.
  • We teach you about pain. We understand that knowledge can change the way you look at the world, and can help reduce your pain. Our team of Physical Therapists and health coaches work with you to understand pain at a deeper level.
  • We feel you deserve a team behind you. Chronic pain is complex, and it can be hard to make exercise a habit without a little help. Our team gives you the exercises to help, and the confidence to keep doing them over time.

Leading the way

Chronic pain is an epidemic that continues to grow in our country. As the leaders in musculoskeletal care, our team is committed to finding new ways to serve our participants and create exercise as a lifelong habit so they can get back to doing what they love the most. Find out how we’ve leveraged our clinical model to reduce surgery risk by upwards of 60% in a recent JMIR study.

Dr. Ryan Sharkey, DPT

About the Author

Ryan Sharkey is a staff physical therapist at Hinge Health. He has 7 years of direct clinical experience treating both acute and chronic pain. He received his Doctor of Physical Therapy from Northwestern University in 2013, and has been a Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist since 2016.


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