An estimated six million Canadians suffer from chronic pain, which is why the Canadian government established the Canadian Pain Task Force (CPTF) in 2019 with a three-year mandate to assess how chronic pain is addressed, conduct national consultations, and disseminate information related to best practices for chronic pain management and prevention.
A key CPTF focus is to address the opioid crisis in Canada. A contributing factor is the reliance on opioids to treat conditions that can become chronic. A Canadian study of patients who had been using opioids for more than six months for chronic non-cancer pain found the leading clinical conditions being treated were chronic low back pain, chronic neck pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic headaches.
The CCA, as the national voice of chiropractors, is determined to help more Canadians live the healthy, active lives they want by promoting the unique value and expertise their hands-on, non-invasive and drugless practice can offer. The CCA seeks to improve approaches to pain management for Canadians, especially through integrated healthcare teams.
As part of a 2020 CPTF consultation, the CCA made a submission outlining how the unique contribution of chiropractors helps those suffering from spine, muscle and nervous system pain. Here is a summary:
Evidence suggests that by providing access to clinical alternatives like chiropractic care, reliance on opioids to treat acute and chronic musculoskeletal-related pain can be reduced.
What is clear is that change is needed to prioritize safer alternatives for Canadians struggling with chronic pain. As spine, muscle and nervous system experts, Canada’s chiropractors can play a bigger role in reducing the over-reliance on opioids, starting with the management of musculoskeletal conditions using non-pharmacological treatments rather than drugs as the starting approach. Opioids and other pharmacological treatments are necessary and important tools to deal with a variety of issues and conditions, but often non-pharmacological treatments can reduce or prevent the need for opioids.
The current barriers for those who seek help for pain are:
- lack of access to multidisciplinary clinics
- absence of adequate private insurance coverage for non-drug pain management treatments like chiropractic care
- absence of a comprehensive pain management strategy that integrates non-drug pain treatments to reduce reliance on opioids.
By embedding chiropractors and other drugless treatment professionals within the healthcare system, especially within multi-disciplinary clinics and community-based practices, patients will have more options and there will be less pressure on physicians to prescribe pain medication.
Additionally, greater investment in research is needed to fully understand the correlation between the breadth of the opioid crisis and the burden of spine, muscle and nervous system conditions. This will allow for the creation of interdisciplinary approaches to managing chronic non-cancer pain.
The CCA believes the three priorities for pain research should be:
- To build on current evidence and knowledge of the prevalence and burden of musculoskeletal conditions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the tremendous burden that musculoskeletal pain has on society.
- To investigate how community-based providers can be integrated and assist in treating patients with chronic non-cancer pain.
- To compare the safety and outcomes of opioids and other drug approaches to non-drug alternatives in both the short and long-term.
A comprehensive approach to the evidence of non-drug options, like chiropractic care, can lead to alternative approaches based on evidence and patient preference.
The CCA hopes that the CPTF effort to bring together the voices of experts, individuals with chronic pain and many others will reduce the burden of chronic pain in Canada.