There’s a raging epidemic underway in Canada that receives very little attention, despite its devastating impacts. It wreaks havoc on people’s health, fuels the opioid crisis and costs the Canadian economy billions. We’re talking about the epidemic of musculoskeletal conditions in Canada.

The statistics paint a grim picture: the combined direct and indirect cost of chronic pain in Canada is estimated to be between $56 billion and $60 billion per year; musculoskeletal conditions are the second highest cause of both short- and long-term disability claims in Canada and, according to the World Health Organization, musculoskeletal conditions are the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries; one in eight Canadians have been diagnosed with chronic back pain; 85 per cent of workers in Canada will suffer back pain in their lifetime; a third of all time lost at work is caused by back pain; and musculoskeletal pain is a key driver of the initial prescribing of opioids.

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In Canada, musculoskeletal disorders cost the economy almost $14 billion due to productivity losses, according to a 2020 study on musculoskeletal health in the workplace. It also found work-related musculoskeletal disorders are the No. 1 reason for lost-time work injury accounting for 40 per cent of all lost-time claims.

Additionally, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found musculoskeletal conditions currently affect 11 million Canadians annually over the age of 12. This number is projected to increase to 15 million by 2031. By all measures, musculoskeletal conditions place a huge strain on both employees and employers. And it should be noted that these figures are pre-coronavirus pandemic. Emerging data indicates the problem is getting worse.

Health challenges associated with working from home are on the rise. According to an Institute for Employment Studies survey, more than half of employees working remotely because of the pandemic reported a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints. More than half of the survey respondents reported new aches and pains, especially in the neck (58 per cent), shoulder (56 per cent) and back (55 per cent), compared to their normal physical condition. 

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This ‘new normal’ will increase the need and demand for musculoskeletal treatment services provided by paramedical practitioners. In terms of group benefits plans, paramedical coverage varies, but they typically include massage therapy, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, acupuncture, naturopathic treatment, podiatry, speech therapy and psychology.

Paramedical services like chiropractic care can be a preventive treatment to improve the physical and mental health of employees, as well as help to prevent serious, long-term and chronic illnesses.

According to Statistics Canada, 35 per cent of Canadians with a pain-related disability use physiotherapy, massage therapy or chiropractic treatments to reduce pain and increase mobility.

As the evolving data demonstrates, the new post-pandemic work environment will likely increase demand for the above-mentioned paramedical services to treat emerging work-from-home musculoskeletal conditions. Paramedical services provide employers with the connection between employee health insurance coverage and productivity.

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In the wake of the pandemic, it will be important for employers to assess their offerings to ensure they’re providing appropriate coverage and services to ensure their employees have the tools and support they need to treat their musculoskeletal conditions quickly and safely to remain productive and engaged.

Ronda Parkes of the chief brand officer at the Canadian Chiropractic Association and Juan Quinonez is the manager of policy at the CCA.