Millions of Americans practice yoga, which combines stretching and strengthening exercises with meditation. Workers Comp experts stress the benefits of this discipline in dealing with a serious problem: the treatment of workers with chronic lower back pain, and arthritic hands due to workplace injuries, whose condition often deteriorate from using high quantities of pain medications.
Yoga can play a key role in “functional restoration programs,” which combine physical therapy, counseling for psycho-social issues, occupational therapy, addiction education, and physical fitness activities. The insurance company might close a claim immediately after completion of the program or it might offer follow-up care. Yoga helps with flexibility, which is part of trying to get patients suffering from chronic-pain issues beyond the “I can’t move” stage. “However you came to chronic pain, you have to figure out some way to not let it drive you,” says Mark Pew, senior vice president of business development for Prium (Duluth, GA), a workers comp utilization review company. “That’s what functional restoration is trying to do – improve your function, which improves your quality of life.”
These programs can cost tens of thousands of dollars for sessions that patients attend daily over several weeks. Results vary: Many patients report improved health and physical abilities, only to relapse with their pain and narcotic use increasing. According to experts, patients must be interested in making lifestyle changes to achieve positive results. Effective programs screen participants for their motivation before admitting them.
Pew is evaluating functional restoration programs based on a set of questions he developed for service providers. The goal is to help Workers Comp payers decide what action to take after utilization review and peer-to-peer discussions with a treating physician have concluded that an injured worker is consuming too many drugs without showing improvement.