If you have chronic lower back pain as the result of an on-the-job injury, auto accident, or slip-and-fall, you probably know all too well the way that pain can undermine your quality of life. For example, you may be unable to work – a situation that can go on for months or even years. Indeed, only about half of people who miss work for six months due to back pain are ever able to go back. And those who are unable to work for two years almost never return.

Life is More than Work

But work is just one aspect of life. If you have chronic back pain, you may not be able to plan something as simple as attending your child’s recital. You just don’t know if you can sit for that long. Maybe vacations and family reunions are completely out of the question because there are days (or weeks) when you can’t move further than the distance from your bedroom to your bathroom. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

The Healthcare Gauntlet

Chronic lower back pain due to an injury is life changing. According to Eric Song, PA-C, supervisor of Inland Pain Medicine’s FRP Department, people who suffer from this type of pain are typically run through the gauntlet of the healthcare system. They may have tried medications, TENS, and injections. “They may have had acupuncture, physical therapy, and even surgery,” he said. At the end of that long road, relief may still be elusive. As a result, they may feel resigned to having their chronic pain dictate their life’s activities.

Finding Hope in Functional Restoration Programs

Thankfully, there’s hope, in the form of functional restoration programs (FRP). According to Song, a functional restoration program recognizes that chronic lower back pain impacts a person’s social life, professional life, mental health, and the daily tasks involved in living. As such, an FRP takes a multidisciplinary approach to chronic lower back pain. “We use pain psychology, physical therapy, pain management, and things like meditation, nutrition, and vocational rehab,” Song said. Relying on a variety of professionals and techniques empowers patients to find the right mix of strategies that enable them to reclaim their lives.

Key to an individual’s success with FRP, though, is the person’s willingness to self-manage pain. That’s why prospective patients are evaluated using measures of pain management, physical therapy, and pain psychology.

An FRP program is an all-in commitment, typically requiring participation five hours a day, five days a week, for six weeks. While a functional restoration program is tailored to the individual, each session builds upon the previous one. Daily attendance establishes the strong foundation of information and mutual support upon which long-term success is built. While success is defined differently for each individual, goals may include regaining strength, overcoming pain-related anxiety, and returning to work.

Achieving Results

Research into functional restoration programs demonstrates that FRP is a viable approach for people for whom a variety of conventional therapies have not produced results. For example, researchers found that FRP significantly outpaced active individual therapy (AIT) across multiple measures. Those who participated in FRP demonstrated greater strength and endurance, and reported significantly less pain when undertaking daily tasks and work and leisure activities. A different study found that 31 percent of patients who participated in a four-week FRP were able to return to work a month later, and 51 percent had returned to work within a year.

According to Song, Inland Pain Medicine’s FRP program has achieved remarkable results. “Patients have been able to reduce medications and are ready to return back to work even with injuries that are five or ten years old,” he said. “I’ve had a patient tell me that she was able to walk twice as fast in less time after participating in our program.”

FRP Accessibility Challenges Remain

Currently, functional restoration programs are usually available only to those who have tried virtually every other option, and whose chronic back pain is the result of a workplace injury or an injury suffered as the result of a car accident or another type of personal injury claim. While private insurance companies have historically been unwilling to pay the cost associated with FRP, they are beginning to look into alternatives for those in chronic pain. 

The bottom line? FRP allows those who are in chronic pain to take greater responsibility for managing that pain by providing them with tools and support. Over time, they learn which techniques and strategies enable them to move forward with every facet of their lives – at work, at home, and at play.

List of references (in the order they’re cited)





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