Employees with chronic pain disorder need HR’s awareness (Letter to the editor)

The article by Dr. Hamer on chronic pain disorder (CHRR, Nov. 22, 2004) was excellent — I was happy to see that it was finally addressed as an HR concern. (To see the article, click on the related articles link below.)

All too often, workers who are suffering from pain receive no acknowledgement from employers that the condition is a “real” disorder. As a former massage therapist, I am very familiar with the complaints of people suffering from chronic pain. I have heard time and again from clients about how their workplaces did not understand what they were going through.

Dr. Hamer’s article raised several important points that bear repeating: pain can continue after the injury is apparently healed; the pain is real, although it may be invisible; co-workers and supervisors must acknowledge the employee’s pain; work activities should be paced and modified.

Quite often, people with chronic pain feel that nobody understands or recognizes their suffering. Acknowledging it and working with them to find ways of accommodating their limitations, such as modifying their workstation, can go a long way toward validating their pain as well as reassuring them that others want to help. People suffering from pain, whether short or long term, feel isolated and alone and that they have to bear this burden on their own, so any support or encouragement will go a long way towards helping them achieve wellness.

Pain is invisible and it is subjective, which makes it hard to discern whether the worker is a malingerer or is truly suffering, and Dr. Hamer makes a crucial distinction between chronic pain and chronic pain disorder (CPD). For individuals with CPD, pain becomes part of who they are and how they see themselves. Their lives begin to revolve around their pain and how to accommodate it, so much so that when the pain begins to diminish, they can actually feel a loss. When something is a large part of your life and then is gone, it leaves a void; so it is important to recognize that as an employee gets better, he may feel somewhat depressed or at loose ends.

While support throughout the healing process is essential, it is crucial that a cycle of dependency isn’t created. It can be a fine line between the two, which is why appropriate rehabilitative care is essential. And although the goal is to have employees return to full capacity, employers must recognize that this might not be possible. Accommodations, such as allowing the person 10 minutes a few times a day to do stretching and range-of-motion exercises, shows the employer understands that the employee has limitations, yet also encourages the worker to take an active role in his own recovery — key components in any rehabilitative process.

Lynn Wintercorn

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