Back pain is a reality that most of us have or will have to deal with at some point in our lives. The causes of musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are varied and not entirely understood – they could be related to genetics, mechanical issues, and lifestyle choices, just to name a few. People from every walk of life from all around the world are at risk of developing MSK conditions or diseases. What should you do if you are burdened by MSK pain?
Typically, people who experience back pain, for example, talk to their family physician (if they have access to one) who will offer advice, a prescription for pain and/or anti-inflammatory medications, and, ideally, a referral to another healthcare provider with expertise in the MSK system, such as a chiropractor. With early assessment and management, including treatment and education around lifestyle contributors (e.g. diet and exercise) and ergonomics, most patients can fully recover and minimize the risk of recurrent episodes.
Patients who do not respond to treatment, however, are commonly sent for diagnostic imaging, whether an X-ray, an MRI or a CT scan. These tests may offer hope to a frustrated patient who is seeking answers, and they are typically ordered to pinpoint structural issues and to determine whether or not the patient is a candidate for surgery or to identify any serious underlying pathology. The reality, however, is that a very small percentage of those who are referred for imaging are suitable surgical candidates (fewer than 1% according to a 2009 study we talked about in our post, Contributing to a Healthy Canadian Workforce: Appropriate Care for MSK Conditions).
So where does that leave the patient?
A 2009 study from the Public Health Agency of Canada that followed chronic back and neck pain patients through the healthcare system demonstrated that patients entered the healthcare system feeling generally optimistic with the expectation of receiving a diagnosis and treatment that would alleviate symptoms. As time passed, however, their perspectives changed to disillusionment, and finally acceptance of life with chronic pain. (It was also noted that some of these patients who moved to acceptance were able to find coping strategies and helpful regimes.) The study paints a gloomy picture, but, as we’ve documented in past blogs, the Canadian healthcare landscape is shifting and new, enhanced access to appropriate care is becoming more widely available.
In November, we wrote about St. Michael’s Academic Family Health Team in Toronto. The Family Health Team works within an interdisciplinary healthcare setting where professionals and students collaborate to provide team-based care, including chiropractic, to urban, inner city patients. The comprehensive clinical care provided has resulted in improved access to musculoskeletal services within the primary care setting at the hospital, and enhanced access to those who otherwise may not have access.
Another example we wrote about is the Kingsway Financial Spine Centre located in Toronto’s Credit Valley Hospital. The centre’s interprofessional team encompasses more than 10 healthcare disciplines, including chiropractic. This immediate access to appropriate care reduces wait times, and hastens diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Collaborative healthcare that integrates multiple disciplines goes a long way to empowering patients by giving them direct access to care while promoting patient choice. However, until clinics like these become the norm, how can Canadians take control of their own health?
Something as simple as body awareness – specifically, the awareness of your posture – goes a long way to improve symptoms associated with musculoskeletal conditions. Ask your chiropractor for ergonomic tips to optimize your work station and incorporate simple stretches into your daily routine, such as the 12 simple movements in Straighten Up Canada, the free app from Canada’s chiropractors.
Don’t have a chiropractor? Find a Chiro here.
Interested in reading more about collaborative care? Check out our other blogs about integrated healthcare.