New Data From Minnesota Show Increase in Chronic Pain Procedures

Rear view of a young man holding his back in pain, isolated on w
In a study facilitated by the state’s big data-crunching tool, the All Payer Claims Database, the Minnesota Department of Health has found that between 2010 and 2012, there was a 13.2% increase in residents seeking treatment for chronic pain.

Chronic pain has been a major focus in healthcare debates lately, with about 100 million sufferers in the U.S., according to estimates from the Institute of Medicine. That’s more than the number of patients affected by cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined.

It’s also estimated that the cost of chronic pain in the country is about $600 billion annually.

“This report is significant because it helps us understand a major driver of health care costs — chronic pain,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said, according to local newspaper Hometown Focus. The health department stated that understanding these costs in the context of the state would be crucial, especially with a graying population likely to need more care.

According to the data, most of the procedures were injections related to back and joint pain.

Debates Over Pain Treatment
The All Payer Claims Database itself is not new, but has only recently been authorized for statewide analyses such as this one. It draws data from all insured Minnesotans, but does not access identifying information, in order to track trends in healthcare.

The latest report covers only procedures carried out by medical doctors, osteopathic doctors and nurse anesthetists. Interventions overseen by other doctors such as chiropractors and podiatrists were not included.

Health practitioners across several fields have clashed in recent years over how to treat chronic pain, especially as the potential for abuse of prescription opiates has come to light. Insurers, too, have wavered over whether alternative remedies such as acupuncture and naturopathy should be covered by insurance plans. And policymakers across the nation have weighed whether medical marijuana should be prescribed when treatment has been ineffective.

“There are a few factors that attribute to chronic pain, the main issue being the American diet, which is very pro-inflammatory. We rely mostly on corn, wheat, soy, and animal-based products. A good way to combat this cycle is to supplement with fish oils that are high in EPA,” said Dr. Skylar Gemmer, clinic director at Life Force Chiropractic. “As far as chiropractics goes, you cannot have a normal range of motion and pain in the same joint. When a chiropractor delivers a specific adjustment, that joint will be able to move with more range of motion that before. Visiting a chiropractor is always a good first stop before people turn to chemicals they might end up taking for the rest of their lives.”

Most of these debates pit the cost of care against patient outcomes, so more data on the subject could be informative in driving policy not only in Minnesota, but nationally.

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