Research aims to relieve chronic musculoskeletal pain, decrease opioid use, decrease cost


“Osteopaths should really be the front line for musculoskeletal pain—such as joints and low back—especially in young people. If I can keep one person off narcotics, maybe I can keep them from death,” says Lisa DeStefano, D.O., chair of the department of osteopathic manipulative medicine at the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Patient care is her passion, but she also enjoys research and teaching other medical professionals who are working “in the trenches.” She’s proud of the fact that her department is the country’s biggest in terms of osteopathic neuromusculoskeletal medicine residencies.

DeStefano and her team are focused on studying chronic pain and its relationship to the body’s function through the newly formed MSU Center for Neuromusculoskeletal Clinical Research (CNCR), which will serve as a campus-wide resource hub for collaborative, multidisciplinary research. Her hope is that CNCR research could one day be applied broadly at the state and federal levels to decrease opioid use, increase cost savings and keep people from developing chronic pain conditions in the first place.

“I’m trying to put mechanistic action behind what we do. It all comes down to biomechanics,” she says. She points out that chronic pain can lead to a centralized pain pattern, and treating chronic pain with narcotics causes some patients to become addicted.

She is in the process of trying to obtain anonymized claims-based patient data from a major insurer to conduct in-depth analysis. She plans to compare claims from around the Lansing and Kalamazoo areas to find out how “having OMM in the mix” impacts the cost of chronic pain treatment. Because patients in the Lansing area can easily access the OMM clinic, she theorizes that the cost of care will ultimately be lower in Lansing than in Kalamazoo.

“We see 30,000 patient visits per year at the OMM clinic,” DeStefano says. “I want to know if we’re keeping people away from surgery and other intensive treatment modalities.”

“To have insurance and still have years of back pain is costly physically, mentally and emotionally,” DeStefano adds. “I see more and more M.D.s taking my continuing education courses, because they know manual medicine works. It’s not a turf thing––it’s an access-to-care problem. There are not enough of us doing this work and taking insurance. We want people to access OMM to improve musculoskeletal function so they’re not having surgery or being inundated with drugs.”