The Cost of Pain Management: Holistic vs. Conventional

The cost of healthcare has skyrocketed in the United States. In just 55 years, total healthcare expenditures across the nation jumped from $27.2 million in 1960 to $3,205.6 million in 2015, according to information presented by the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. A major contributor to this cost is the price paid for pain management. A large part of this is because so many people in the United States suffer from chronic pain. In fact, a report from the Institute of Medicine estimates that 116 million adults in the country suffer from chronic pain. The report, entitled Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research, notes that expenditures for managing pain are estimated to be as much as $635 billion a year. According to researchers from Johns Hopkins University, as outlined in a document that appeared in The Journal of Pain, this figure is higher than the costs incurred by patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer on a yearly basis.

For the Johns Hopkins University researchers, the cost of pain was reached by assessing its indirect results due to a loss of productivity as well as the incremental costs associated with it. As far as defining who is suffering from pain, these researchers classified them as those whose level of pain is great enough to limit their ability to be gainfully employed, those that are formally disabled when it limits their ability to work and those who have been diagnosed with arthritis or joint pain. In their research, the study’s authors determined that the cost of managing pain is between $560 billion and $635 billion. They did, however, also acknowledge that their estimates were likely to be conservative because their figures did not take into account certain segments of the population even though at least some portion of them are suffering from pain. These populations include non-civilians, people under the age of 18, those who are institutionalized and those who are caregivers.

Types of Pain

In general terms, there are two types of pain: chronic and acute. Acute pain tends to last for a relatively short amount of time. Chronic pain, on the other hand, can persist for a far greater amount of time — weeks, months or even years. The American Academy of Pain Management notes that pain can be triggered by a number of causes including infection or injury. An ongoing condition, such as cancer, is another reason why patients might experience pain. Sometimes, though, patients can experience chronic pain without any discernable cause. Some of the most common complaints that fall in this category include arthritis pain, migraines and back pain. A particular challenge that both patient and physician often face is the process of trial and error that must be taken in order to find the right treatment for pain management.

How Physicians Typically Approach Pain

Pain that is mild and believed to be an issue for a short period of time is typically addressed by physicians with the recommendation of an over-the-counter (OTC) medication like acetaminophen. Another common recommendation is ibuprofen and other types of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Depending on both the quantity that the patient purchases and whether or not they chose a brand name drug or an equivalent generic, the typical cost can range from $5 to $25. For short term pain that is acute, this is sometimes all that is needed. When people suffer from pain on a chronic basis, however, treatment options can become expensive — especially for those people who are working their way through various options in a desperate attempt to alleviate their pain.

Chronic Pain

For chronic pain, phsycians typically have a number of options that they can use. Prescription medications for severe or chronic pain include antidepressants, such as Amitriptyline which costs $12 for 30 tablets in a 10 mg formulation. Other options include opiate like hydrocodone which typically costs about $18 for 30 tablets that are 325 mg and anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine which sells for about $53 for 30 tablets that are 100 mg.

Pain Centers

For people who suffer from chronic pain that does not respond to prescription pain medications, a physician has the option to refer them to a local pain center. At a pain center, a team of professionals meets with the patient to create a comprehensive treatment plan. Because there are different disciplines and procedures involved, the cost of treatment can vary widely. According to research obtained by Marketdata Enterprises, a firm that specializes in such matters, the cost of a pain program averages nearly $5,000. This fee is typically broken down into an initial consultation as well as monthly office visits that are required. Even after this treatment plan has been developed, additional procedures might be needed.

Surgery

For the management of chronic and persistent pain, surgery is the most often used treatment besides medication. Just as an example, in order to deliver relief to patients with persistent and untreatable back pain, more than 31,000 lumber surgeries are performed on a yearly basis. The estimated cost of the surgery alone is nearly $28,000 for each patient.

In some cases, it might be medically necessary for a patient to have a surgically implanted device that delivers medication in an attempt to better management his or her pain. This surgery — which can cost between $27,577 and $55,134 — is typically reserved only for those patients who have not responded favorably to other pain management methods.

Natural and Holistic Pain Management

According the American Academy of Pain Medicine, not only does pain management cost more than the amount spent on heart disease, cancer and diabetes, more Americans suffer from chronic pain than these conditions combined. As the trend of natural and holistic approaches continues to move more solidly into the mainstream, people who suffer from chronic pain are looking for other, gentler and more effective alternatives that don’t expose them to side effects. Popping pills and going under the knife carry with them a huge risk of side effects that can range from the inconvenient to the deadly. Sadly, for many people, the conventional answers to pain management simply aren’t effective at stopping chronic pain.

  • Whole Body Vibration

Whole body vibration (WBV) offers sufferers of chronic pain numerous benefits. Not only WBV feel good, it can help strengthen their muscles which, in turn, improves both agility and flexibility without straining ligaments and joints. Users of WBV might find that their circulation is improved. This is an important benefit because it brings with it an increase in the amount of oxygen that reaches the tissues and cells which can jumpstart healing. Toxins in the body are also flushed out and the production of collagen is supported.

When WBV increasing the blood circulation, the flow of blood increases as well. This causes the production of the human growth hormone — a valuable component in the regeneration and repair of soft tissues — to increase dramatically. Natural chemicals and hormones that help the body counteract any pain are also stimulated by the use of WBV.

Utilizing WBV on a regular basis helps reduce the effects of stress. Cortisol levels naturally rise when a person is under stress which can also increase the level of pain experienced. Instead, when undergoing WBV along the different parts of the body, each part works in conjunction and harmony with the others as serotonin — also known as the “feel-good” hormone — is released.

  • Massage

Massage is another natural and holistic method of pain management that not only feels great but that has no discernable side effects. Like WBV, massage has been shown to boost the body’s levels of serotonin and endorphins which are known as the body’s way to management pain while regulating mood and reducing the levels of stress hormones.

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Getting the body and mind more fully in tune to one another can help with the management of chronic pain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help shift the way a person thinks about pain. Utilizing CBT can also greatly reduce the levels of stress the patient experiences. Stress has been shown to significantly worsen many different types of pain. CBT can also give patients coping mechanisms that help them better manage their pain when they have a flare up.

  • Yoga

It is no surprise that yoga is an effective way for people to relax and get their minds and bodies more in touch with each other. However, by practicing this ancient discipline on a regular basis, patients can experience a reduction in both their pain levels and the depressive symptoms that often accompany chronic pain. When coupled with other methods like WBV, the patient is able to experience a deeper level of relaxation and pain management.

  • Acupuncture

Another ancient practice, acupuncture has been used for centuries in Asian countries to correct energy imbalances that are taking place in the body. Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles in particular points on the body. Carefully positioning of the needles within specific areas of the body can help boost the body’s adenosine activity. Adenosine is an amino acid that the body releases when there has been an injury. Patients who use acupuncture will likely find that it not only helps with the management of their chronic pain but that the functionality of their musculoskeletal and nervous systems is also improved. These can help reduce their level of pain as well.

  • Meditation

Meditation can help reduce the levels of stress hormones that are in the body as well as help a patient to relax. Many people find meditation to be intimidating when they first start but it’s worth trying for its benefits. Even a short amount of time spent meditating can help reduce cortisol levels and help a patient reach that all-important mind and body connection.

Patients today are taking matters into their own hands more often. Instead of suffering through weeks, months or even years of chronic pain while they work with their physician to try more medications and surgeries, today’s patients are turning to natural methods of pain relief that employ a more holistic approach. Unlike conventional pain relief efforts, those that are natural and holistic can be used in conjunction with one another. In fact, methods such as  whole body vibration, massage and cognitive-behavioral therapy complement one another. There are almost no known side effects when these methods are practiced. This is a distinct advantage when compared to medications that often seem to have side effects that make the patient miserable or a surgery that didn’t relieve them of their pain after all.

Jesse S.

Jesse Self is a passionate Entreprenuer and Health & Fitness Enthusiast who is based in Huntsville, Alabama. Born in Birmingham, his love of all things health began while he was in college. Jesse was overweight at the time and was driven to get his health back. He was able to turn it around and lost 60 pounds. Healthy living has been his primary passion in life ever since.

As the proud Owner of Bigghealth Management, he assists people in achieving their fitness and health goals by utilizing a leading-edge, evidence-backed system called Whole Body Vibration therapy. Through this innovative technology, he and his committed team help clients lose weight, relieve pain, increase energy levels, increase bone density, optimize strength, and more.

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