Productivity loss caused by pain costs employers an estimated $61.2 billion annually, according to a study in the Nov. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which focuses on pain management.
Almost 13% of the U.S. work force lost productive time over a two-week period because of pain, the study says.
"Pain is an inordinately common and disabling condition in the U.S. workforce," writes lead author Walter Stewart of Geisinger Health Systems, Danville, Pa. "As the primary purchaser of healthcare, employers are well positioned to demand programs that reduce the impact of common treatable pain conditions in the workplace."
About 80% of lost productive time related to pain is explained by reduced performance and not absence from work, the study concludes. Workers with lower productivity caused by pain lost a mean of 4.6 hours per week, with headache accounting for 3.5 hours per week and other common pain conditions accounting for the loss of 5.2 to 5.5 hours per week, the study finds.
Headache was responsible for 5.4% of the total loss in productivity, followed by back pain (3.2%), arthritis pain (2.0%) and other musculoskeletal conditions (2.0%).
Pain is the most common reason patients seek medical attention, according to information provided at a JAMA media briefing. Fifty million Americans are partially or totally disabled by pain, and more than 45% of U.S. residents at some time seek care for persistent pain.
In an editorial, JAMA editor Catherine DeAngelis, M.D., writes, "The remaining challenges regarding pain management for clinicians and investigators are to advance knowledge about the mechanisms of pain; develop new and better analgesic medications and methods of delivery; remove the obstacles that prevent clinicians from using known effective means of relieving pain in the very young, in the elderly, and at the end of life; and educate patients about effective use of pain-relieving therapies. Clearly, much is left to be done."