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Ergonomics

Chronic Pain Up Almost 40 Percent Among U.S. Workers in Past Decade But Most Employees in Pain Still Go to Work


Persistent, chronic pain has risen dramatically among full-time U.S. workers in the past 10 years, but workers today opt to go to their jobs rather than call in sick, leading to a growing trend of presenteeism a negative impact on work despite being physically present at the job.

"Chronic pain appears to be increasing in prevalence among U.S. workers as Americans age and lead more sedentary lifestyles," said Rollin Gallagher, M.D., M.P.H., editor-in-chief of the National Pain Foundation (NPF) Web site (www.NationalPainFoundation.org), a founding and current member of the Board of the NPF and clinical professor and director, Center for Pain Medicine, Research and Policy of the University of Pennsylvania.

"This survey indicates that employees with chronic pain must become their own advocates, understand the impact of their chronic pain and work with their healthcare provider to identify appropriate treatment options."

Chronic pain, defined in the survey as pain that lasts for at least six months, was more common in the workplace in 2006 than it was in 1996 (26 percent vs. 19 percent).

The study fundings are from a 2006 national survey conducted by Harris Interactive on "Pain in the Workplace" (www.painandwork.com), sponsored by PriCara , Unit of Ortho-McNeil Inc., and conducted in partnership with the National Pain Foundation (NPF). The survey was an update to the 1996 Louis Harris & Associates poll on the subject, sponsored by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Inc.

Employees In Pain Still Go To Work

Today, almost nine in 10 employees with chronic pain (89 percent) typically go to work rather than stay home when experiencing chronic pain, the survey found. The same percentage of employees (89 percent) reported experiencing chronic pain at work "often" or "sometimes." Ninety-five percent of employees with persistent, chronic pain reported that their pain must be moderately severe or very severe to cause them to stay home from work.

"In my practice, I am seeing an increasing number of patients for chronic pain and hearing more patients talk about how their pain affects activities of daily living," said Dr. Charles Argoff, director and assistant professor of neurology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York. "They're looking for ways to manage their pain, and there are treatments that can help such as diet and exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture and a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Addressing Pain at Work

There have been positive changes in the workplace in the last decade. More than two-thirds, or 66 percent, of employers surveyed now offer worksite wellness programs to employees, compared to 40 percent in 1996. But while the number of wellness programs is relatively high, the number of programs addressing chronic pain is not. Only 22 percent of wellness programs include a component about preventing or living with chronic pain conditions.

"We have seen some improvement in the recognition of pain-related illness in the workplace, and that should be commended," said Dr. Gallagher. "But more U.S. businesses should invest in these wellness programs. Once employees are given the tools to better understand and manage their pain successfully, they can begin to improve many areas of their lives affected by their chronic pain."

NPF, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 1998 to advance functional recovery of persons in pain through information, education, awareness and support.

For more information on the pain in the workplace survey, visit www.painandwork.com.


© 2007 Health Resources Publishing