Chronic pain can impact every aspect of your employees’ lives if left unmanaged. These employees carry the stigma of the complainer and the person always seeking medication, and that “the pain isn’t really as bad” as they say it is. While opioids do still remain an important treatment in certain situations, it is essential to explore and to integrate other management strategies wherever possible. Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, stresses the importance to have patients play a bigger role in their pain management. “Throwing treatments, and particularly medications, at pain without some sort of active participation on the part of patients is usually not helpful.” The best way to approach pain management in the workplace is from an integrated model of communication with the employee and identifying the best form of treatment according to the employee’s needs and history.
Painkillers may not always be the solution to employee pain in the workplace. Aside from the fact that prescription painkillers profoundly increase workers’ compensation costs, they sometimes have an adverse affect on people taking them in high doses for chronic pain. According to Ballantyne, they are not safe for long-term treatment. This is why it is so important to take into consideration the circumstances of the pain and create a comprehensive pain management plan. Here are some examples of different ways pain could be managed. A pain management plan could have several of these elements depending on their situation.
Physical Approach: Exercise, physiotherapy, hands-on deep tissue treatment, hot/cold application, and even surgery are all examples of a physical approach. As an employer, you might also want to consider job ergonomics and modifying the space in which your employee works.
Psychological Approach: Mental techniques such as psychotherapy, mindfulness, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques are all examples of a psychological approach.
Here are some questions to consider while working with your employee on a pain management plan:
- What limitations is the employee with chronic pain experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations and /or onsite treatment options are available to reduce or eliminate the pain? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee with chronic pain been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee with chronic pain to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
If it has been deemed necessary to follow up with the employee and evaluate the effectiveness of the pain management plan, you should create criteria for effectiveness according to the goals of you and your employee. Job satisfaction, level of absenteeism, employee engagement, productivity, and whether or not the pain itself is being managed and reduced can all be factors in whether or not your pain management plan has been effective.
Creating a comprehensive pain management plan for your workers with chronic pain is essential. Painkillers are not the end all be all of pain management, and having conversations with your employees about their needs is important so that they can get the exact treatment they need. Your employees will be happier, feel like they have more options, and feel more comfortable discussing their needs with you.