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U of U Health Part of Large NIH Research Into Pain Management

University of Utah Health is part of a multimillion-dollar, multi-component research project looking at improving pain management for members of the military and veterans. Physical therapist Julie Fritz, PhD, PT, is leading the U's efforts, which focus on the treatment of low back pain in active-duty military members. "We are looking at early and later stage treatments," she said. "Our goal is to avoid adverse consequences downstream – particularly reliance on opioids for pain management."

Fritz's team will be working with patients using a stepped approach — starting with broad and less costly treatments that could benefit a wide range of patients. Those who do not respond to those treatments will then be treated with more intensive therapies.

"We are trying to take a really holistic approach. We will start with patient education, sleep management, exercise and stress reduction," Fritz said. "For those who don't respond right away, we may move into mindfulness, acupuncture and other non-pharmacological treatments."

As Fritz's research progresses, it will be placed alongside additional research projects with the goal of creating a collaboratory of cost-effective, large-scale, real-world research on nondrug approaches for pain management. The hope is that the work of the 12 research projects can build on each other to provide better care for military members and veterans. "We can learn from each other," said Fritz. "The goal is to conduct complementary research studies that address this common topic from many angles."

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), part of the National Institutes for Health, is contributing more than half of the total funding, and they are the agency funding Fritz's work.

"NCCIH has made pain research a priority — especially in military and veteran populations. We first partnered with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the VA in 2014 and are delighted to expand the partnership to include the DoD and additional HHS/NIH components," said Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of NCCIH.

The research will take place over a six-year period.