Magazine article Risk Management

Managing Pain in the Workforce

Magazine article Risk Management

Managing Pain in the Workforce

Article excerpt

Pain is the top cause ofadult disability in the United States, costing the workforce as much as $334 billion each year in lost productivity costs, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Pain. While the musculoskeletal "pain points," such as back pain and carpal tunnel, are well known and their direct costs well-documented, there has been less emphasis on-or awareness of- the secondary or mental health effects of pain: anxiety, depression, unclear thinking and memory loss.

Even what someone might consider mild discomfort or irritation can cause these secondary effects and can affect everything from sleep to diet to exercise. As a result, these conditions can-and often do-impinge on the workplace, with symptoms manifesting themselves in form of diminished employee morale, focus and performance.

There is also a "compounding effect"- the more pain persists, the more of an impact it can have. It may become a vicious cycle, as discomfort in one area causes problems in another. Employees who are suffering and unable to work miss out not only on the income, but also the sense of meaning, purposefulness and belonging that can be gained from a job. Initial distress may lead to chronic anxiety and even depression.

Those who are able to work may only be there in body, unable to focus and perform as expected. This is known as presenteeism and it can be an even greater drag on productivity than absenteeism. In fact, according to a Global Corporate Challenge report, the cost of presenteeism to businesses is 10 times higher than that of absenteeism and amounts to as much as 57.5 days lost per employee each year.


In order to effectively address chronic pain, employers need to take a systematic, evidence-based approach, including pain assessment, education, worksite therapy and training. The "four pillars of pain management" are:

i.Develop a system of employeecentered integrated pain management practices based on a model ofcare that offers access to the full spectrum of pain treatment options. Evidence-based pain management is founded on a proactive and holistic approach that is pegged to outcomes, such as absenteeism, presenteeism, morale and worker satisfaction. It is based on preventing, managing and eliminating musculoskeletal discomfort, and continuously analyzing outcome data to see what is or is not working. A holistic approach addresses body, behavior and environment in an employee-centric pain mitigation model. This focuses on stretching, posture, body mechanics, coaching and training. It also incorporates technology that promotes healthy behaviors and creates a more "user-friendly" ergonomic office environment for sitting, standing, pushing, pulling and lifting. An employeecentric solution should involve onsite pain relief therapy before the issue becomes chronic, and before the pain starts creating or heightening the secondary effects. It should also include educational reinforcements and ongoing monitoring. Early interventions can pre-empt the need for doctor's visits or more involved physical therapy, reducing medical and workers compensation claims.

2. Take steps to eliminate barriers to pain care and improve the quality of care. The two biggest barriers to improving care are access and the stigma that attaches to those who seek it. Providing onsite treatment enables employees to more readily seek out and receive counseling and treatment. This can be augmented by making resources available online and by providing each employee with a self-treatment and pain management plan. Organizations can help reduce the perceived stigma by promoting the importance of awareness and early intervention pre- and post-treatment, and making employees aware of the costs to the company when chronic discomfort or pain compromises performance. …

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