Optimizing workplace productivity has been employers’ main focus for a long time. However, boosting optimization by introducing wellness programs and diversity is a modern-age phenomenon.
Yet, amid the numerous concerns, pain management is often overlooked.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2019, 20.4% of adults experienced chronic pain, while 7.4% endured high-impact chronic pain, significantly limiting their daily life and work activities.
Working in constant physical discomfort is challenging, to say the least. Pain can dramatically affect performance and overall contentment, whether it’s the desk-bound employee or the physically active worker.
So, as we near Pain Awareness Month, observed annually in September, in this Shortlister article, we aim to shed light on the challenges faced by individuals living with chronic pain and the importance of effective pain management strategies.
This month presents employers with a unique opportunity to empower their employees with knowledge and support, fostering a healthier and more productive workforce.
Understanding the Impact of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a physically and financially exhaustive journey, requiring individuals to navigate a complex landscape of medical expenses and treatments.
However, to fully grasp its impact, we must examine its individual, economic, and societal implications.
On a personal level, chronic pain can be an all-encompassing ordeal.
The constant struggle with discomfort can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, affecting sleep, mood, and overall well-being. Many people living with chronic pain experience isolation, as they may struggle to participate in social activities or maintain interpersonal relationships. The frustration of not being understood or believed by others can compound the emotional distress associated with lasting pain.
Moreover, chronic pain places an immense burden on the healthcare system and the economy.
This debilitating condition affects more than one-quarter of Americans, resulting in costs exceeding $100 billion annually for pain management and opioid dependence alone. When factoring in direct medical expenses and lost productivity costs, the total financial burden reaches an alarming $560-635 billion, according to a report by U.S. Pain Foundation.
This study further reveals that around 20 million people endure high-impact chronic pain, which significantly constrains their ability to perform basic daily activities such as personal hygiene and household chores.
Moreover, pain is the primary factor driving Americans to seek healthcare services and the leading cause of long-term disability nationwide.
The rising demand for pain medication and treatments has also contributed to the opioid crisis.
Opioids were heavily prescribed for pain relief, which led to a significant increase in misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. As a result, it has become evident that drug prescriptions are not the sole solution to pain management and that alternative, safer strategies must be explored.
Between these factors and the unjustified stigmatization, its severity underscores the significance of raising awareness about living and working with chronic pain—making Pain Awareness Month‘s role even more valuable.
Its history goes back to 2001 when the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), and 80 other organizations such as the NAACP and the American Cancer Society, came together under the Partners for Understanding Pain umbrella.
With a collective commitment to improving pain management practices, tackling the opioid public health crisis, and advocating for those facing chronic pain challenges, Pain Awareness Month has emerged as a dedicated platform that sheds light on this crucial health issue and works towards finding meaningful solutions.
Since this condition has far-reaching effects, extending beyond the personal realm to the workplace, employers, too, must address the impact of chronic pain on employees.
Organizations that acknowledge the significance of chronic pain and actively work towards creating supportive and accommodating work settings can significantly aid their staff. From increased productivity to decreased absenteeism, understanding the implications of chronic pain and educating the workforce can benefit everyone.
Creating a Supportive Workplace Culture
The survey report conducted by the U.S. Pain Foundation presents striking statistics, revealing that only 25% of the respondents dealing with chronic pain were employed.
Of those, 18% held full-time positions, and 7% worked part-time.
Additionally, 43% of the participants reported receiving some form of formal disability-related compensation, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), worker’s compensation, or Veterans Affairs disability compensation.
Perhaps most alarming, 79% of survey respondents felt stigmatized due to their chronic pain condition.
In light of these findings, it becomes evident that fostering a workplace environment that addresses chronic pain and its associated challenges is crucial.
Organizations should create a supportive work culture that accommodates employees with chronic pain, promotes inclusivity, and breaks down the stigma surrounding chronic pain conditions.
Employers can demonstrate their commitment by promoting empathy, understanding, and support in the workplace and showing genuine concern for their workers’ well-being. This can be achieved through various means, such as implementing wellness programs and providing reasonable accommodations.
Ultimately, the approach depends on the specific needs of the workforce.
Thus, creating a safe space for open discussions enables employees to explore potential accommodations or adjustments that can help them manage their pain while still fulfilling their work responsibilities.
This culture of support, compassion, and open communication makes it easier for workers to discuss their pain-related issues without fear of judgment or stigma. It’s also the first step towards educating the workforce on this matter and improving their access to pain management resources.
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Educating Employees on Pain Management Strategies
Lasting change is attainable through education.
Providing employees with the necessary knowledge and resources is essential to empower them in managing chronic pain effectively.
Since the underlying cause of acute or chronic pain has a broad range, pain treatments vary extensively.
According to WebMD, pain management strategies range from over-the-counter and prescription drugs to physical therapy and acupuncture. No single technique guarantees complete pain relief, and a combination of treatment options may be necessary for effective relief.
- Drug therapy that includes nonprescription and prescription (NSAIDS, opioids, muscle relaxants, etc.)
- Trigger point injections to treat painful muscle areas
- Surgical implants
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
- Bioelectric therapy
- Physical therapy
- Psychological treatment
- Alternative therapies like acupuncture and mind-body techniques
- Nutritional supplements
- Herbal remedies
- Dietary approaches
- Pain clinics for a multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain management
ATrain Education, a platform for education healthcare professionals, further summarizes the main pain management approaches into three categories:
- The Pain Medicine Model: Drug therapy, injections, and surgical implants for relief.
- The Self-Management Model: Education and lifestyle changes for empowering individuals.
- The Integrative Medicine Model: Combining conventional and complementary approaches.
Overall, different conditions require different solutions.
Thus, employers can empower their employees with knowledge about pain management techniques by offering educational materials, workshops, and access to reputable online resources. Consequently, this can help them make informed decisions tailored to their needs.
Pain Awareness Month can be the stepping stone towards educating employees on pain management strategies that can significantly impact their well-being and productivity.
However, Rob LaHayne,the President of KOM Growth , argues that employees should be educated throughout the year.
“Similar to all HR, benefits, and employee well-being initiatives, people forget about their resources if they’re not being effectively communicated to them throughout the year.
Employee engagement and education needs to be done on a regular basis and in a variety of formats if you want to achieve any sort of outcomes,” explains LaHayne.
Collaborating regularly with healthcare professionals and hosting expert workshops on the topic can add significant value to the employer’s initiatives.
Moreover, wellness programs can complement pain management efforts by promoting physical and mental health.
Offering yoga classes, meditation sessions, or other wellness activities can aid in reducing stress and contributing to pain relief. Additionally, providing ergonomic workspaces with suitable equipment can minimize physical strain and discomfort, benefiting employees with chronic pain and promoting general workplace health.
Ultimately, tailoring pain management to individual needs and prioritizing their education can complement these efforts and contribute to a healthier workplace.
Tailoring Pain Management Strategies to Individual Needs
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must provide reasonable accommodation for employees with chronic conditions.
However, pain is not a condition but a symptom.
Usually, chronic pain derives from a chronic illness like arthritis, diabetes, migraines, cardiovascular diseases, or even cancer. Therefore, treating it can be complex, even more so considering a person’s pain tolerance, the nature of their condition, and how it manifests physically, emotionally, or mentally.
That’s why it’s crucial to recognize the unique needs of those with acute or chronic pain and tailor pain management strategies to individual requirements.
This personalized approach recognizes that each person requires a unique set of interventions.
So, instead of offering generic solutions, companies can implement strategies considering the specific pain condition and its impact on an employee’s work and daily life. For example, it can be a combination of preventive measures, ergonomic adjustments, or flexible work arrangements and support services.
It’s best to consult or collaborate with healthcare professionals for maximum efficiency.
Employers can encourage them to discuss their pain experiences openly with their healthcare providers, allowing for a collaborative approach to finding the most suitable pain management solutions and wellness initiatives.
Promoting Wellness & Self-Care Practices
Well-being should not be a choice employers make but a necessity.
Yet, according to Gallup, less than a quarter of the workforce strongly agrees that their employer cares about their wellness.
Prioritizing these practices empowers workers living with chronic pain to overcome many challenges and focus on self-care and pain management.
Findings from one study revealed a positive correlation between enhancements in physical functioning and psychological aspects and improvements in pain intensity. In other words, health and wellness coaching benefits individuals with chronic pain and pain-related interference.
Conclusively, one of the fundamental aspects of self-care as a pain management strategy lies in adopting a healthy lifestyle.
For example, a well-balanced diet, rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory foods, can positively impact pain management. Likewise, adequate and restful sleep is essential for the body’s healing process, allowing employees to better cope with pain during working hours.
Stress can often exacerbate chronic pain, leading to a vicious cycle of increased discomfort. Thus, employers can organize stress management workshops or offer resources like meditation and relaxation techniques to help employees cope effectively.
As for physical health, since regularly exercising can be a complex undertaking when someone’s dealing with pain, low-impact exercises like yoga, stretching, and walking can be particularly beneficial.
In addition to lifestyle adjustments, employers can promote self-care by encouraging regular breaks and offering ergonomic adjustments in the workplace.
Prolonged periods of sitting or repetitive movements can worsen pain and discomfort. So, by encouraging employees to take short breaks to stretch and move, employers can help reduce the strain on their bodies. Moreover, providing ergonomic assessments and adjustments to workstations can help employees maintain proper posture and minimize pain-related issues.
Leveraging Technology & Resources
Among pain management strategies, leveraging technology and resources has emerged as a promising approach to effectively addressing wellness in the workplace.
The technological advancement in the past few decades allowed employees to harness the power of digital tools and applications and access valuable resources and support systems that aid in understanding and managing their pain.
One significant benefit is the ability to track and monitor pain levels. Numerous applications allow employees to record and analyze their pain patterns, helping them gain insights into triggers and potential solutions. Some of those include:
- Pathways Pain Relief offers a comprehensive program for diagnosing and treating chronic pain like back pain, migraines, joint pain, and digestive issues.
- Curable is a mental health app that offers a virtual coach, guiding individuals in managing and coping with pain through diverse mental activities.
- Branch Health was created by pain patients to address conditions such as lower back pain, neck pain, knee pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, CRPS, Crohn’s Disease, endometriosis, arthritis, lupus, and nerve pain related to sciatica.
- Bearable, whose creator deals with a chronic condition, developed this comprehensive tracker that includes mood and symptom entries alongside other health factors.
These apps often include pain management algorithms for features such as pain diaries, medication reminders, and mood trackers.
Besides pain tracking, technology provides access to a wealth of pain management and workplace health resources.
Reputable websites and online communities offer educational materials, expert advice, and support networks that can guide employees in their pain management journey.
For example, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of NIH, is a reliable source for patients with neurological disorders. Their website offers research-based insights and resources to help individuals better understand and cope with this type of chronic pain.
Other resources, all divisions of NIH include:
- NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (HEAL Initiative) focuses on advancing scientific research to address pain and addiction.
- Office of Global Health and Health Disparities (OGHHD) plays a significant role in addressing global health disparities, emphasizing the importance of ensuring equitable access to pain management information and services.
- The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) provides valuable information on musculoskeletal disorders, arthritis, and related pain conditions. Their website offers evidence-based insights into pain management techniques and treatments.
In addition to the mentioned sources, other credible platforms can provide further assistance in pain management strategies, such as ACPA, which offers a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges.
Collaborating with Healthcare Providers & Employee Assistance Programs
While painkillers are an immediate solution to pain-related issues, effective pain management requires a multi-faceted approach.
As previously discussed, the opioid crisis has highlighted the risks of relying solely on drug prescriptions for pain management. However, this presents a unique opportunity for organizations to take an active role in addressing the crisis while prioritizing the well-being of their employees.
By embracing comprehensive pain management strategies, introducing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and collaborating with healthcare providers, employers can contribute to a safer and healthier work environment, fostering a sense of care and support for those with chronic pain.
In coordination with HR and managers, companies can educate their workforce on effective pain management strategies beyond medication and take advantage of services like counseling, physiotherapy, or pain management clinics covered by their health plans.
This comprehensive approach fosters a healthier work environment and demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being.
Pain Awareness Month provides a valuable opportunity for employers to take meaningful action in addressing chronic pain within the workplace.
By embracing a holistic approach to pain management and cultivating a culture of empathy and support, organizations can positively impact their employees’ lives while contributing to the broader effort in tackling the challenges posed by chronic pain in society.
- Chronic Pain and High-impact Chronic Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019
- Chronic Pain, NIH
- A Chronic Pain Crisis
- September is Pain Awareness Month
- Pain Management: Treatment Overview
- Pain Management Approaches
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Showing That You Care About Employee Wellbeing, Gallup
- Health and Wellness Coaching Positively Impacts Individuals With Chronic Pain and Pain-Related Interference