Chronic pain is an invisible disability that continues to inflict victims of workplace injury long after the event. Not only does it cause physical suffering but it can lead to emotional conditions such as depression and frustration. Studies have shown that how a worker deals with pain following an accident will determine how well they will deal with chronic pain if it manifests and how soon they will be ready to return to work.
According to the American Chronic Pain Association, chronic non-malignant pain (CNMP) is the most common cause of disability in workers under the age of 45 and disables 90 million Americans. The US economy loses $100 billion per year due to chronic pain.
Some common workplace injuries such as falling, slipping without falling, exertion, and repetitive stress injuries can be the cause of chronic pain. Unlike acute pain, (the pain you feel during the course or immediately after the initial injury) chronic pain exists in bodies that appear to have healed. In other words, chronic pain causes physical, emotional, and psychological pain but does not pose a threat to cause further injury or disability.
The Rush to Judgment
The problem with these reports is that, too often, employers determine that all chronic pain is merely psychosomatic. Consequently, the time between the “all clear” diagnosis from the physician and the employer’s expectation that the employee assume normal responsibilities is seldom long enough for the worker to deal with or fully understand the derivation of their continuing pain.
Problems with Opioids
One of the problems in dealing with chronic pain is the wide use of opioids to treat severe pain. Many injuries that cause acute pain require the use of opioids to keep intense pain manageable. In fact, the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) claims that 80% of all injured workers nationwide receive at least one prescription for opioid-type drugs. At issue is whether or not to continue long-term opioid use for chronic pain, considering the predilection many have to addiction.
Long-term dependence on opioids, especially where opioid use on the job would be prohibited, makes it more difficult to adapt to a non-drug pain management strategy when attempting to go back to work. The effectiveness for relief between opioids and other pain management therapies is so dramatic, there seems to be little incentive to transition away from them.
Getting back to work
Recent studies show that patients instructed by their doctors to depend less on opioids and more on alternative pain management as soon as possible after an injury are able to return to work sooner.
If you have been injured on the job, your pain management is part of the compensation you deserve to enable you to return to work. If your physician is only prescribing opioids to deal with your pain, you may face problems not associated with your work injury. Contact you Workers’ Compensation attorney to make sure you get the support you need.