The REAL Cost of Pain

In Arthritis Pain, Back Pain, Head & Neck Pain, Health & Wellness, Joint Pain, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Therapist's Thoughts by Ginny RiegerLeave a Comment

No one really likes pain. In fact, many of our learned behaviors are focused on trying to AVOID pain. And yet millions of people experience persistent and even chronic pain on a daily basis. In my practice as an OT, I routinely hear people complain of symptoms they have had for weeks, months, years. I hear how their symptoms affect their sleep, their job performance, their roles as a parent or spouse or friend or caregiver.  As an employer, I see how pain affects my employees’ lives, as well as their bottom lines. And as a human, my own pains create hurdles for daily tasks, being able to be an effective caregiver for my patients and my own engagement in my relationships. With all of these factors, what is the REAL cost of pain?


In 2019, the US Pain Foundation reported that chronic pain affects nearly 50 million Americans, and 20 million of those have “high impact pain.” (1) When calculating the monetary cost of pain, we must look at not only the cost of repeated healthcare visits, medicines, and devices, but also the cost of lost wages for those who are actively working. In 2010 numbers, the article “Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research” found that the total incremental cost of healthcare due to pain (of various sorts) ranged from $261 to $300 billion dollars. (2)  Since 2010, costs have continued to rise. 


No two people experience pain exactly the same. Age, gender, culture, access to care, social supports, spiritual belief, and other health conditions all factor into the experience of pain and play a role in how pain may impact the person on an emotional level. Even the way a person is raised may impact the perception of pain and attitudes toward it. Often, people with pain struggle with depression and anxiety, as well as feelings of frustration, inadequacy, anger and misunderstanding. Inevitably, this can lead to changed family and interpersonal dynamics, difficult communication, and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Mental fatigue from thinking about pain, explaining the situation to others and managing pain is common, as well. People with chronic pain are also at greater risk for drug and alcohol dependence, as well as thoughts of suicide.


Therapy is almost always focused on increasing function. Pain can be very limiting physically and energetically, and people with pain develop functional limitations classically associated with aging at much earlier ages. (3) Pain can and does affect mobility, posture, joint health, cognitive functioning, safety, and quality of life. More generally, pain can affect a person’s ability to care for themselves or others, participate at work, drive, sleep, perform household tasks, shop, pay bills, and attend appointments, as well as engage in fun and leisure activities.  Decreased function often feeds the financial and emotional costs, as well.


As mentioned before, therapy is largely focused on decreasing pain and increasing function. Therapy can help a person learn about their condition, develop relationships that support and help problem-solve limitations, and correct musculoskeletal issues that may be contributing to the pain cycle. Physical and Occupational therapy does have a financial cost, but when pain and associated functional limitations are addressed, the emotional costs are often reduced, as well as the larger financial picture of healthcare services. Researchers found that when therapy was an initial care strategy, the average total medical cost was 19% lower than when injections were used first and 75% lower than a surgery-first group. Researchers also found that during the 12-month period after initial diagnosis, people who received therapy first tended to accumulate fewer additional costs than the injection and surgery groups. People who received therapy within the first 15 days of diagnosis incurred lower average treatment costs than those whose  therapy began later, and those savings continued through the 12-month study period.(4)


We are fortunate that Wyoming is a direct access state for physical and occupational therapy! As a consumer, you can seek therapy services for any reason you so choose. We often DO like to keep your physician in the loop, and sometimes your insurance requires supervision of therapy by a primary care provider, but many insurances do not require that. So, what are you waiting for? Take control of your pain, and make clear goals for your function AND finances!  What will your pain cost YOU?  How can Advance Therapy partner with you in your goals?


Other resources:,themselves%20feeling%20depressed%20or%20anxious.

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