By Kent S. Greenawalt, Chairman and CEO, Foot Levelers
Back pain is the sixth most costly condition in the United States, with approximately 16 million adults experiencing persistent/chronic back pain. Alarmingly, U.S. hospitals performed more than 100,000 “unnecessary” procedures on older Americans in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, including 30,094 spine surgeries, according to a May analysis published by the Lown Institute.
Health care costs and indirect costs resulting from back pain have reached over $12 billion per year. In fact, back problems represent the most frequent patient complaints to doctors. Many of the indirect costs of this chronic condition are related to missed days of work and disability payments, with some 83 million days of work lost per year due to back pain. Back pain may also affect other activities, including athletic performance and exercise.
The good news is that research and education can play an important role in high quality spine care and advancing a deeper understanding of biomechanics —the science of movement of a living body, including how muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments work together to produce movement that could improve activities of daily living. For this reason, educating health care teams, payers and employers on pain management solutions can enhance patient spine care.
Recently, a leading provider of hand-crafted custom orthotics serving multi-disciplinary professionals and clinicians announced a $500,000 endowment for a Chair in Biomechanics and Human Performance at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) to support research and education and advance a deeper understanding of biomechanics.
This endowment will provide the opportunity to find more efficient, effective care that leads to improved patient outcomes and better quality of life, especially pertaining to spine care, throughout the world. Research is critical for improving spine care, human performance and biomechanics, so such an endowment can go far to support health care teams worldwide.
The goal is to enhance well-coordinated patient care among different providers and institutions that brings together care for the whole person. This level of commitment to research also resonates with providers, patients and payers.
The same organization also created an annual $25,000 matching gift to NWHSU to be used to further clinical research on functional orthotics products and their effect on the biomechanics of the whole body, especially the spine.
This level of support provides benefits that extend to payers and self-insured employers who are seeking pain management solutions that avoid the use of opioids or incur expensive hospitalizations, surgeries or interventions that drive up the cost of care.
Studies document that handcrafted custom orthotics are proven to reduce lower back pain by 34.5% and improve function by 18.9%. This research demonstrates trends of improved patient outcomes and reduced healthcare costs, two increasingly important factors in American healthcare and society in terms of our growing focus on individuals maintaining an active lifestyle.