Chronic Pain is no joke. Unfortunately, there are some work injuries that will leave a person in pain for a long time, maybe even the rest of their life. It can be costly to keep this person on pain medication and dangerous too- as they have a chance to become addicted to those medications. The person is also facing the prospect of a lifetime of pain, so depression is another risk that can account for increased work comp costs.
We’ve all heard about the problems that opioids are causing in the work comp world. Why not take a look at a more alternative form of medicine? What if there were treatments, aside from pills, which could ease this person’s pain in a more natural way?
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting needles at specific points around the body to promote healing. It can also utilize heat or electrical therapies. The points are located along energy channels in the body, and one belief is that we hurt when one of these channels is blocked. The needles are supposed to unblock the obstruction, and let energy flow through us regularly again. Another belief is that the needles release certain chemicals into our body, like endorphins or other hormones that can help heal us. The needles are inserted into the skin and stay for 5-20 minutes. Acupuncture can be used to treat nausea, headaches, back pain, and other ailments.
I’ve never tried acupuncture but there is some support for this as a pain treatment. In New York for example, a bill is going before the governor that would make acupuncture reimbursable as a workers’ comp expense. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year. Acupuncture is already a service in states like California, Florida, Colorado and others. Therapists must be licensed and on an approved provider list. Those who are against the bill say that broadening the scope of services available to workers’ comp patients would increase costs.
The supporters say that there would be limits to the kinds of treatment workers’ comp patients could get to try and avoid abuse and rein in costs, and that it might actually save money in the long run because it might be a more cost effective alternative to pills. Note that the state of New York, on average, administers the highest amount of pain medication to work comp patients, almost double the national rate. For a claim that stretches out over several years, prescription drugs can account for almost 15-20% of the total costs.
Yes, maybe there is reason to believe that some will abuse the system, as is the case with many other components of work comp. But maybe there is reason to believe it will work for some people. A practice that has been around for thousands of years might have something going for it.