The Costs of Musculoskeletal Health Care

Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are ones which affect your muscles, bones, and joints. Common MSK conditions include back pain, neck pain, and arthritis. These health conditions affect millions of people. And those affected often spend lots of money on costly and risky treatments—such as surgery or prescription drugs—hoping to cure their condition and ease their pain. Yet in many cases, less pricey and more conservative treatments often yield the best results.

Total spending on MSK issues in the United States is about $320 billion dollars each year. To put that in context, the amount spent on cancer treatments is about $140 billion each year. The amount spent treating heart disease is about $200 billion a year. MSK issues cost more than cancer or heart disease, and nearly as much as both combined.

People with MSK pain are looking for ways to resolve or ease the pain. And for those who have had pain for a long time, drastic measures may seem necessary. Those with chronic low back pain, for instance, may think elective spinal surgery is the only solution. But invasive treatments, like surgery, cost a lot of money. More importantly, they come with a lot of risks. And they don’t always have the best outcomes.

The good news is that there are a number of evidence-based ways to treat MSK pain. They range from more conservative to more invasive options. And studies suggest that the more conservative options are often the better choice. These may include:

  • Movement: Moving helps keep your body healthy. It can also help strengthen muscles and improve healing blood flow to the painful areas. Daily activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, tai chi, and Pilates work well to help your joints and muscles stay flexible and strong.
  • Posture and Body Mechanics: The way that you sit and stand and how you move may cause or contribute to your pain. Taking steps to improve your posture and body mechanics may help you manage your symptoms.
  • Self-Care: Hot packs may relax tight muscles to help ease pain. Cold packs may help reduce inflammation to dull pain.
  • Weight Loss: Losing weight may help reduce stress on muscles and joints, which often can ease pain.
  • Quitting Tobacco: Quitting can help reduce inflammation that can make pain worse. And quitting can also improve healing blood flow.
  • Manual therapy: Manual therapy includes massage, mobilization, and manipulation. These hands-on treatments can help manipulate your muscles, tissues, and joints to ease pain and restore proper function. This type of care is offered by chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists.

MSK pain can be hard to deal with. And in some cases, more invasive treatments may be needed. But it helps to know that those are not your only options. If you are dealing with MSK pain, talk with your health care practitioner about conservative treatment options.