The work of pain management

a young businesswoman working on her laptop at home
A large proportion of Australians who are living with chronic pain are not receiving effective treatments. By creating opportunities for timely access to pain management in the workplace, the detrimental effects of chronic pain may be minimised.

Effective pain management benefits everyone. Left untreated or poorly managed, chronic pain can have a devastating impact on all aspects of a person’s life, including their place of work, and can severely affect relationships, social interactions, and productivity.

The cost of pain

The economic cost of chronic pain in Australia is around $34.3 billion per year. It’s estimated that half of this cost could be saved by providing effective and timely treatment for chronic pain. Unfortunately, up to 80% of Australians who are living with chronic pain are not receiving effective treatments to improve their health and quality of life. As those experiencing chronic pain often suffer in silence, feelings of being misunderstood and stigmatised often accompany their condition.

Multidisciplinary treatment is key

Multidisciplinary management for chronic pain, which addresses the physical, psychological, environmental, and social factors associated with the pain, is an effective strategy supported by growing evidence. A multidisciplinary team should include physicians, clinical psychologists or psychiatrists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, occupational therapists and vocational counsellors.

It’s important to realise that multidisciplinary management is not “one size fits all”, instead it needs to be personalised to meet the unique needs of each person. This multidisciplinary approach to chronic pain may include medical approaches and drug treatments, as well as psychological interventions based on cognitive behavioural therapy.

A GP or other primary health care professional can provide guidance and support in setting up and accessing a multidisciplinary care plan for chronic pain.

Supportive employers make a difference

Employers are a crucial part of helping their people manage chronic pain. They play a role in communicating any workplace resources available for workers who have chronic pain. Workplaces that are openly supportive of their employees who are experiencing pain will create opportunities for workers to seek help and access the full range of services available to them. This can increase treatment rates, which can improve outcomes for people suffering chronic pain.

Creating space for pain management

Active self-management approaches are also an important part of addressing chronic pain. Research shows us that people who manage their pain daily have the best outcomes. These approaches include gentle stretching and walking, practicing mindfulness, maintaining a healthy diet, and improving sleep.

There are workplace strategies that can support people in managing their chronic pain. These include:

  • Encouraging exercise
  • Promoting regular breaks
  • Providing information on healthy eating and sleeping
  • Allowing flexible work hours
  • Allowing employees to work longer when well
  • Ergonomic assessment of the employee’s workspace and modifying if necessary
  • Changing the nature of the employee’s work to better suit an employee

People with chronic pain shouldn’t suffer alone. Multidisciplinary care and self-management are effective strategies to help people treat their chronic pain, and employers play an important role in supporting these approaches. By creating opportunities for effective pain management in the workplace, it is possible to reduce the devastating impact of chronic pain.

Arthritis Victoria. Working with pain: What can workplaces do to support employees with persistent musculoskeletal pain to maintain productive employment. [Online, accessed 10 May 2017] Available from: www.move.org.au

Australian Bureau of Statistics. Facts at your fingertips: Health 2011 (cat no. 4841.0) [Online, last updated July 2012, accessed May 2017] Available from: www.abs.gov.au

Fenner P. Returning to work after an injury. Aust Fam Physician. 2013;42(4):182-5.

Pain Australia. The Nature and Science of Pain [Online, accessed Mya 2017] Available from: www.painaustralia.org.au

National Pain Summit Initiative 2010. National Pain Strategy. Melbourne: Faculty of Pain Medicine [Online, accessed May 2017] Available from: www.painsummit.org.au