Drug Free Pain Care Can Work In The World of Work Comp

Pain Care Part 5: Alternative Treatments vs. Pain Medication For Injured Workers

A mother can show the strength of Hercules to stop a rolling car from harming her child, and only hours later feel the pain.  But an injured worker on opioids can hesitate to make a modest exertion out of concern of self-harm.  These examples show how pain is an experience of the whole person.  The wisdom of drug free care knows this.

For injured workers in pain, the industry should rely less on drugs or surgery and instead emphasize alternative treatments of physical and psychological conditioning.  Types of these alternatives treatments include exercise, counseling, and electro‑stimulation.  This care can come independently or in an integrated setting.

injured worker with back painBack pain for example, can be subjective in diagnosis and therefore more challenging to treat. There is no conclusive evidence what kind of care works best for back pain.  But it is pretty clear that care not focused on drugs can be a solid, safe bet in many cases for a good outcome for both patient and the workers’ compensation insurer.  Drug free care is almost always less expensive and certainly less risky than relying mainly on surgery or a combination of medications.

Drug free alternative treatment also fits in with the scientific point of view of the nature of pain coming after a musculoskeletal injury. Science says that in most cases pain will naturally resolve. But if pain persists, behavioral factors (such as lack of exercise) and psychological factors (such as anxieties) are probably worsening the pain experience.

The pharmaceutical industry has added to the perpetuation of drug care by promoting medication as the treatment of choice for pain in popular culture and in the medical community.  Surgeons and pain management specialists are well represented in society via various groups who make recommendations that many people can accept or adopt.  However, there is no prestigious “American Academy of Drug Free Care”, so it is easy to overlook this approach.

Look how milestones in the course of recovery occur, when exercise, physical stimulation, counseling and other interventions are attractive options. The drug free care approach can help when:

  • The injured worker wants to avoid powerful painkillers, has no interest in surgery, but is not recovering fast enough.
  • The injured worker, on opioids, wants to but is anxious about returning to work.
  • The injured worker has had surgery but remains on opioids
  • A drug formulary induces the prescribing physician to taper or completely discontinue opioids for the patient.

Claims adjusters and case managers should get to know providers of guided exercise, counseling, electro stimulation and other drug free care. They should be in the position to inform claimants and their treating physicians of these less-invasive, less harmful alternative treatment options.


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Pain Care Part 4: Analyzing the statistics – overdoses, addiction rates and physical & mental side effects of opioids

Pain Care Part 3: How the workers’ compensation industry is responding to the upsurge of opioids in healthcare