Pain is personal, powerful, and prevalent. Pain care should be, too.
Physical pain is everywhere, even if we can’t always see it.
Studies suggest that in a room of 100 U.S. adults, about 60 of them will have experienced some kind of pain in the last three months. About 40 of them will be living with back pain, and about 20 of them will be suffering from chronic pain, which is pain lasting for 12 weeks or more. If you were in that room, it would probably be impossible to tell that so many people are hurting just by looking at them. The pain epidemic forces many to suffer in silence and, too often, accept pain as a fact of their lives.
One reason pain is so prevalent is that the pain research field struggles to keep up with the complex, sometimes mystifying ways in which physical pain, mental health, and socioeconomic realities intertwine. Chronic pain in particular can be onerous to diagnose and treat. Sometimes originating from acute pain that doesn’t resolve, and other times arising without any history of operation or injury, chronic pain can linger for months or even years despite medication and attempts at treatment. It can also be difficult to disentangle chronic pain from depression and anxiety, as they frequently co-occur and intensify one another. This means risk factors for one are also risk factors for the other. For instance, financial and social stressors such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education make people more vulnerable to both physical pain and emotional distress, with poor Americans being more than 3x as likely to report pain as wealthy Americans.
To make matters worse, society at large has failed to make the non-invasive pain treatments and approaches that do exist widely accessible to those who need them. For one, payers are not incentivized to cover the multidisciplinary care that pain treatment often entails. Secondly, there’s a stigma surrounding chronic pain that disproportionately affects women, people of color, and those whose source of pain is invisible or unknown. Sufferers of chronic pain are wrongfully deemed weak or lazy, and the use of opioids is often met with judgment. Finally, traditional healthcare systems under-invest in pain education for providers. According to a 2018 study, 96% of medical schools in the U.S. and U.K. did not have any compulsory dedicated teaching in pain medicine. There is also a lack of clear appropriateness criteria regarding when to turn to surgery, and the siloed nature of healthcare makes it difficult for physicians to determine whether non-invasive avenues such as physical therapy have been exhausted before recommending invasive ones.
These factors — plus the common misconception among patients that costly interventions yield better outcomes — have led to a “try and see” approach to pain care. This results in unnecessary tests, imaging, and procedures that come at a high cost to pain sufferers (and their employers) but don’t actually alleviate their pain or lead to healthier outcomes. For instance, over 50% of Americans suffer from musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, and healthcare related to MSK costs >$381B per year in the U.S. However, 50% of MSK-related surgery is unnecessary and likely could have been avoided by physical therapy; there is evidence that applying physical therapy (i.e., exercise) first and foremost to alleviate MSK pain provides similar or superior outcomes to surgery, thus preventing the need not only for the surgery itself, but also all of the costly healthcare services that typically precede it: medical imaging, steroid injections, and opioids.
The truth is that — while physical pain is undoubtedly complicated — much of it is preventable, treatable, and in some cases even predictable. According to Dr. Daniel Clauw, director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, tools other than medication and invasive procedures exist to help 80% to 90% of people who suffer from chronic pain, with the simplest tools often being the most effective: more exercise, more sleep, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, to name a few. But these simple tools only work if they are utilized, and too often they’re inaccessible to patients. For example, traditional physical therapy is so time-consuming and costly that 50% of patients drop out after just four sessions, long before the course of treatment makes an impact.
Since Sword’s market entry in 2020, we have worked to break down these barriers to accessibility by providing our members with effective and convenient resolutions for pain-related issues. From first launching Digital Physical Therapy, to the more recent unveilings of Bloom for pelvic health and Move for exercise, the focus of every Sword product has been to conquer pain by getting the right tools into people’s hands at the right moment in their pain journey. Now, Sword Health is poised to revolutionize the pain care sector once again by unveiling its revolutionary next step that seamlessly integrates those solutions into a single platform — the very first end-to-end solution to predict, prevent, and treat pain. We recognized that our individual products would be more accessible, powerful, and transformative if they could work seamlessly in tandem, providing individuals with personalized pain care that meets them where they are.
With the Sword Platform, all of the following will be available in a single, unified app:
- Predict: AI identifies members 10-40x more likely to have surgery more than 6 months in advance of a decision to operate
- On-Call: 24/7 access to pain specialists to help avoid unnecessary urgent care visits
- Digital Physical Therapy: Customized pain treatment tailored to every member and every condition
- Bloom: Next-generation of women’s pelvic health care
- Move: Move makes it easy for members to start exercising by combining Certified Personal Trainers with wearable technology to deliver customized programming
- Academy: The Academy provides the highest quality video education delivered by clinical experts.
The result? A singular solution that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Members will soon move fluidly between products for a tailored experience, relying more heavily on prevention when their pain is low and on treatment when pain episodes arise. Employers who offer the Sword Platform as a benefit can save millions in healthcare costs as their people avoid unnecessary surgeries and become happier, healthier, and more productive. And, by offering the Sword Platform, employers can become the much-needed change-makers who destigmatize pain, while also making holistic, whole body health and pain care more accessible and affordable for their people.
If you’re a business leader looking to free your people from pain, request a Sword Health demo.