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Managing & Navigating Chronic Pain in the Workplace

Managing & Navigating Chronic Pain in the Workplace
Managing & Navigating Chronic Pain in the Workplace

Chronic pain is defined as an ongoing, non-acute pain that lasting for three months or longer. According to the National Institutes of Health, expenses related to chronic pain, as a result of missed workdays and medical costs exceeds $600 billion each year. Roughly 100 million Americans are affected by chronic pain, with a majority of those still in our workforce.

As an employer it’s important to understand how chronic pain may be affecting your staff and what you can do to help make their pain more manageable and comfortable while they are at work. Making accommodations for employees with chronic pain can not only help improve efficiencies but it can also help set realistic goals and expectations for both parties.

Here are some tips on how you can help your employees with chronic pain:

  • Education & Awareness
    It is important for chronic pain employees to feel comfortable and supported by supervisors and peers in their work environment. Education of staff can help bring awareness to the disease and help break down any misconceptions and bias related to chronic pain. Letting your employee know that you are there to support them and keeping an open dialogue on what their limitations and capabilities are can help set realistic expectations. If necessary, and if the employee is comfortable with other staff knowing of their condition, feel free to let other staff join the dialogue. Make them aware of the limitations so they don’t judge the chronic pain employee as someone who is a “slacker”.
  • Work Environment
    Evaluate your work environment and help create a space that is supportive and sensitive to the needs of chronic pain employees.
    • Designate Quiet Work Areas
      • Giving employees a quiet place to recharge is good for mental and physical health.
    • Think Outside the Cubicle
      • Cubicles are not conducive to the needs of chronic pain employees. Consider purchasing ergonomic chairs and standing desks that allow for more flexibility and promote good posture.
    • Invest in Equipment
      • Investing in proper equipment can help decrease the risk of further injury or strain.
  • Take Five
    Encouraging regular breaks for employees give them a chance to get up and get their blood flowing. Sitting at a desk all day is terrible for overall health and all employees should have the chance to get up and move.
  • Don’t Stress
    Offering opportunities for stress relief at work can be a nice perk for chronic pain employees. On-site chair massages, walking clubs, meditation groups, and on-site yoga are all options that have proved to be popular in the workplace.
  • Be Flexible
    Offering flexible schedules and work from home opportunities can help employees perform their best while at work.

It is also important to acknowledge that chronic pain can have a negative impact on mental and emotional health as well. Studies show that 30-50 percent of people with chronic pain are also struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Offering easy access to mental health or including metal health in your benefit packages can help address this secondary issue.

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