The US is facing an impending chronic pain crisis—here’s what it means for insurers, digital health companies, and employers

The data: There could be a 22% increase in joint pain medical encounters and a 7% increase in spine-related encounters in the US this year due to drivers like delayed care, per a recent, in-depth report analyzing 2 million claims by predictive analytics company Prealize Health.

  • Joint pain outpaces any other condition at risk for increased utilization in 2022: The report predicts a 14% increase in obesity, and only a 10% increase in hypertension, for instance.

Below, we break down what the data means for three key players: insurers, digital health companies, and employers.

What this means for insurers: Massive insurers likely already have a trove of data to forecast what the top chronic conditions will be this year—which means many are already preparing to boost access to digital musculoskeletal (MSK) treatment platforms to cut long-term costs.

Cigna has more than 180 million customer relationships, and it’s pushing virtual physical therapy to its members to help relieve MSK pain before it worsens and contributes to the billions the US already spends on treating it.

For example, last month, Cigna announced it’s expanding its partnership with digital musculoskeletal care solution RecoveryOne to offer Medicare Advantage (MA) members personalized virtual care to treat conditions like back pain.

  • Cigna is likely interested in cutting long-term MA costs via RecoveryOne’s platform: The virtual PT startup claims its platform already reduced other Cigna members’ lower back pain by 77%.

What it means for digital health companies: A rise in joint pain means B2B digital MSK treatment apps could experience a rise in interest from new payer clients.

Companies like Kaia Health partner with some health plans like Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, but new joint pain concerns could have more clients signing up for its services.

  • In fact, Kaia Health claims it’s already kicked off 2022 with 50+ new clients, including 10 Fortune 500 employers.

What it means for employers on the hook for health benefit costs: Employers have already experienced an uptick of chronic pain concerns from employees practicing poor posture while working from home. If this is not addressed, these pain-related costs will only worsen this year.

  • Doctors are seeing an increase in complaints of neck and lower back pain, dubbed ”‘pandemic posture," over the past 1.5 years as patients sit for extended periods of time with increased work from home (WFH) schedules, per Harvard physiatrist Dr. David Binder.
  • The number of businesses seeking services to prevent WFH injuries has jumped 200% in the past two years alone, according to data from workers comp and disability insurance company Hartford Financial Services Group.
  • If employers don’t act quickly to ensure their employees are course-correcting poor posture (through accessible digital MSK platforms like Sword Health, for instance), they could be staring down a winding road of long-term chronic pain costs.