Emory Spine Center kickstarts clinical trial for chronic low back pain with SWORD Health

From our earliest years, SWORD Health’s founders chose not to go to market until we were clinically assured that our virtual approach to physical therapy was demonstrably more effective than gold-standard conventional physical therapy. As we’ve honed our technology and treatments to serve patients with acute, post-operative, and chronic pain, we’ve invested the time and research to ensure we have the best clinical evidence on our side. Today, we’re thrilled to announce a clinical study with the renowned Emory Spine Center, ranked among the top in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, where we’ll quantify our progress against low back pain, the monster MSK disorder that burdens 568 million people. As we undergo this study with Emory Spine Center and SWORD Health’s MSK solution for chronic and low back pain, we anticipate life-changing outcomes, and look forward to the evidence that this partnership will provide.

In 2021, the World Health Organization named low back pain as the main cause of premature exit from the workforce.

The impact of early retirement on both direct healthcare costs and indirect is massive: between 1996 and 2016, healthcare spending in the United States soared from $1.4 trillion to around $3 trillion. According to the Global Burden of Disease, studies show that this number continues to trend upward, most rapidly in low- and middle-income countries. At SWORD Health, we’re no stranger to the absenteeism and productivity loss our manufacturing and labor-heavy clients have faced. And this problem is not only devastating to the employer’s workforce: it balloons their benefit expenses.  


In past clinical studies, we’ve measured our effectual decrease on pain, unnecessary surgery, opioid consumption, absenteeism and presenteeism. In this upcoming study with Emory Spine Center, we will focus on those outcomes for chronic low back pain, which we have reason to believe will be similarly revolutionary. We will also deepen our scientific understanding of the role our doctors of physical therapy have on patient satisfaction and adherence to prescribed treatments over a virtual platform, compared to the reduced compliance seen over time from the start to finish of a protocol in conventional settings. Both quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests that an experienced practitioner’s ability to be informed by data from every session, exercise, and movement allows for tailored interventions and hyper-responsive followup that result in more immediate and complete recovery.


As we’ve built our solution, it has become clear that to truly address the complex issues at hand (MSK pain management, opioids, surgery, and mental and emotional repercussions), patients need the best experts on their side.

Doctors of Physical Therapy are not only the obvious choice, but the safest for addressing legitimate MSK-related health concerns, physical wellbeing, and overall long term habits.

We’ve also seen the need for specialized, advanced technology.  Our newest motion sensors read up to 5,000 different types of feedback with 4x more accuracy than the human eye. By equipping our physical therapists with a wealth of data and biofeedback, they’re best able to create a high-touch approach from a human response to exercising with pain. This data-enriched expertise allows rapid adjustments to our members’ programs and helps our SWORD physical therapists optimize the way they treat their patients. And the outcomes are continually validating this approach, with surgery intent slashed by 64%, opioid consumption down 48%, and overall pain decreasing by 70%. With our smart technology and advanced human touch, our members have the best chance to heal — which is why Emory Spine Center chose to work with us. 


In the future, we expect to look back and recognize this inflection point in treating one of the most prevalent musculoskeletal conditions on the planet. Several organizations have called for the solution to the global mismanagement of this condition. We’re thrilled for the opportunity to partner with Emory Spine Center, one of the most esteemed clinical science centers in the United States, to bring meaningful relief to millions of people. As we broaden our approach and continue to make clinical rigor our priority, our partnership will have a lasting impact on how people heal.



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Ask a PT: Do I need to stop my normal fitness while doing SWORD? 

As a physical therapist working with active people who are also SWORD members, it’s only a matter of time before I get asked: “Do I have to stop training or working out while doing this program?” 


The short answer is “not necessarily.”


Exercise has proven health benefits, including keeping you slimmer, and strengthening your heart and endurance. It can boost your mood and improve your sleep habits. The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and strength training each week. 


As a PT helping patients to achieve better health, it’s my duty to promote exercise on a daily basis. Through the SWORD program, I also help our members tackle their pain in a safe and effective way — while keeping them active as well. 


People often seek our help when their pain becomes a regular occurrence or hindrance in their everyday lives. When this is the case, continuing with their usual workout routines without guidance from a licensed physical therapist can lead to increased risk of injury and a longer recovery time. 


But that doesn’t mean you have to stop completely!


Sometimes, it may be appropriate to take a break from your other workouts while you focus on healing and becoming pain-free. In other cases, your physical therapist may recommend a reduced or alternative workout routine to compliment your SWORD program. And some patients may not need to change their routine at all. 


Think of physical therapists as movement experts who have the knowledge and experience to review your current routine and advise you if it’s appropriate to continue and at what capacity. Since the SWORD program is delivered virtually in the comfort of your own home and can be done at your own pace, it’s an excellent companion to your current exercise routine in most cases.


Let’s dig into this a bit more. Movement analysis, exercise prescription, and education are all tools we use to provide an appropriate and goal-oriented program. 

Movement Analysis

Whether you are lifting weights in the gym or doing the latest yoga routine, every exercise you perform has a specific movement pattern. But if it’s not done correctly, it can lead to injury. Proper performance and motor control are essential to getting back to your normal workout without increasing injury risk. That’s one way we can help.

Exercise Program

When defining your exercise program, we take into account many factors, which can be grouped into three main areas:

  • Specificity: Your program and exercises will be tailored to your work, home and recreational demands, as well as address your specific areas of concern and medical history.
  • Progression: As you progress, so will your exercises. We want to see a gradual increase in intensity so your body learns to adapt and becomes stronger.
  • Variety: If you have been training hard to reach a fitness goal, chances are you have developed a routine. The SWORD program introduces variety into your workout by focusing on novel exercises and working on different muscle groups that can be easily neglected.


Our knowledge of proper movement, injury prevention and musculoskeletal conditions can save you a lot of time sifting through Dr. Google’s endless (and often conflicting) recommendations. Safe participation in physical activity is our goal. We want you to feel empowered when you’re exercising and know that your body is capable of achieving great things.  


So let’s outsmart pain together. Work closely with your SWORD physical therapist to understand if your exercise routine is safe to continue or needs to be modified in any way for optimal recovery.



About the author: Ashley Bass, PT, DPT

Ashley Bass is a licensed physical therapist with a background in orthopedic rehab to include chronic pain, joint replacements, and temporomandibular disorders.  Ashley is a classically trained dancer who found a passion for physical therapy after a car crash halted her performing arts career.  Based on this background, she loves to explore movement with her patients and have them find the grace and beauty of functional mobility.  


Ashley earned her Doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Maryland, School of Medicine. She also holds a Bachelor in Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in Exercise and Sports Science.  


Presently, Ashley lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, and dog.  They are self-proclaimed foodies and love exploring new restaurants around the city in search of the perfect bite. When not eating, both enjoy working out and weight lifting.


Freedom from Pain: Success stories from SWORD members

Whether it’s riding a bike, avoiding surgery, or eliminating the need for opioids, virtual physical therapy can help people live pain-free. At SWORD, we take pride in helping our members return to the health and lifestyle that they aspire to.


Watch our video below to see just a few examples of how members have been able to find a new lease on life with SWORD.