untreated back injury COVID pandemic

MSK Disorders Have Largely Gone Untreated During the Pandemic

What Happens Now?

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, usually busy operating rooms across the country have often stood empty as hospitals paused elective surgeries to focus resources on treating patients affected by the virus and patients delayed care for fear of exposure. Overall hospital visits hit a record low in April, dropping 33 to 62%. A huge drop in treatment for musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders played a major role in declining volumes and hospital revenues, with hip replacement surgeries down 79%, knee replacements down a stunning 99% and spinal fusions down 81% during a two-week period in March and April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

But, of course, these declining volumes don’t mean that the need for MSK care lessened. While utilization rates have been significantly lower for these services during the peak, as states reopen and elective surgeries are rescheduled, a tidal wave of demand for care that has been delayed could swamp the system. At the outset, it may be difficult for patients to schedule surgery in a timely manner as demand surges while providers limit the number of patients they see—further delaying much needed treatment. MSK patients who put off care and now face an additional delay in accessing care may require more complex and costly treatment because their condition has worsened. 

Beyond the issues surrounding delayed MSK care, stay at home orders have left most Americans seeking a cure for severe cabin fever. After months of limited activity, more people are getting outdoors to run, walk, and bike, or are starting new home workout routines to help them get back in shape and avoid the “quarantine 15” weight gain. Unfortunately, this sudden increase in activity is likely to further swell the numbers of those with MSK problems, from back and knee pain to the exacerbation of previous disorders such as herniated discs and arthritis. 

An innovative approach to getting people the MSK recovery care they need now

While additional care delays may be difficult for patients, they provide employers and payers with an opportunity to put in place an early intervention system that provides ready access to care to mitigate the severity of MSK disorders without the need to risk COVID-19 exposure in a bricks and mortar healthcare facility.  

RecoveryOne can serve as that early intervention system, delivering digital PT and coaching to guide a structure program that helps people manage and reduce the pain and loss of function caused by MSK disorders. Not only does this recovery care have the potential to decrease pain, it can also reduce the use of opioids, lowering the risk of overuse of these highly addictive medications. Our comprehensive virtual recovery program is also a safe alternative for people who remain hesitant to seek care at a healthcare facility or undergo surgery, especially those who are older or have underlying conditions that mean they are at greater risk from COVID-19.

Personalized Musculoskeletal Recovery phone app

Our digital MSK recovery solution also has the potential to help employees and plan members avoid surgery in many cases. In fact, many MSK specialists recommend PT as the first line treatment for a wide range of musculoskeletal problems. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that for people diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, those who underwent six weeks of PT achieved the same improvement in physical function as those who underwent surgery without experiencing the complications of infection, delayed wound healing and repeat surgery.  Our data, based on millions of digital sessions, shows that this model can improve function for both acute and chronic low back pain by over 90% while significantly reducing pain to an average of 1.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. It can also reduce surgical procedures and lower costs for health plans and employers while keeping users happy and engaged.

Of course, surgery is sometimes the most appropriate course of treatment. When employees and plan members need to undergo a procedure for their MSK condition, RecoveryOne’s digital PT and coaching solution provides a comprehensive prehab program from the safety and convenience of home. We provide a structured exercise program that follows rigorous clinical pathways to help them get stronger and healthier so they can better tolerate surgery. RecoveryOne also provides the post-surgical rehab support these employees and plan members need to recover more quickly, feel better sooner, and get back out there.