11/25/2015 12:14 EST | Updated 11/25/2016 05:12 EST

Collaboration In Health Care Is The Cure For Canada's Chronic Pain

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Cape Town, South Africa

Think about the last time you suffered from back pain. Do you remember how it affected you? Did you grin and bear it and head off to work, did you miss your workout or basketball game? Were you able to pick up your children after school or did you have to make alternate arrangements?

As health care evolves, governments and stakeholders are increasingly recognizing what so many Canadians have personally experienced. Low back pain (LBP) and other chronic muscle and joint pain not only has a tremendous impact on our individual health, but on our health care system's ability to handle these conditions.

It's no surprise that governments are focusing more attention on how to better support musculoskeletal (MSK) patients, considering that back pain is now the leading single cause of disability worldwide. In Ontario, chiropractors, in their role as MSK experts, are playing a crucial role in the development of new models of care to help our province face these challenges.

The current reality surrounding MSK dovetails neatly with other significant global healthcare trends:

1. We are getting older and living longer.

2. Health care as we know it is increasingly unaffordable.

3. Patients with multiple, complex conditions account for most of our health care expenditures. It's estimated that 1 per cent of Ontarians account for 34 per cent of healthcare. MSK is often a significant contributor to the complexity of patients with multiple chronic conditions.

We are in the midst of a significant demographic change. A rising baby boomer cohort wants to approach aging in a different way from their predecessors. Empowered by research and data that highlight the importance of exercise, nutrition and mental health, baby boomers are trying to break past assumptions surrounding aging and what it means to be an older adult. Their new mantra is "Age, be damned!"

An integrated health team can help baby boomers redefine what aging means. Family physicians, nurse practitioners, chiropractors and other health care professionals can work together to empower older adults with education, self-management strategies, exercises and therapies to help them stay mobile and active. These are strategies that can reduce the effects of chronic conditions that occur when older adults become predominantly sedentary.

MSK conditions like joint pain can add to the complexity of patients with multiple chronic conditions. Imagine a chiropractor collaborating with a diabetes specialist, sharing medical records and planning a treatment path that includes ways to help a patient manage their pain and engage in an exercise program that will help them return to normal activity.

From healthy adults with traumatic injuries, to complex patients suffering from a number of conditions, and even the most vulnerable populations suffering from financial hardships, most of us will unfortunately have to deal with low back pain or some other musculoskeletal condition. We know that at some point in their lives, nearly 85 per cent of the working population experiences low back pain, and 11 million Canadians over the age of twelve are affected by musculoskeletal conditions annually.

We all need to do our part. Our health care system needs to develop the framework to foster collaborative, cost-efficient approaches; practitioners must rely on evidence-based best practices to treat low back pain and other musculoskeletal issues, and patients have to embrace the active role they must play in their own treatment through exercises and preventative strategies.

All of us have a role to play in helping people that are suffering get back to doing the things they love to do: playing soccer with their team or having the first dance with their loved one on their wedding night, free from the pain and discomfort that too often afflicts many of us.


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