Can you imagine leaving for work one morning with high expectations about how your job will help you secure your future plans, and by the end of that day having your life changed forever because of a workplace accident? And further, can you imagine living in unrelenting pain for the rest of your life as a result of that accident? Workplace injury results in short-term (acute) pain that can lead to long-term (chronic) pain. Far too often, injured workers join the ranks of the seven million Canadians living with undermanaged chronic pain (that is, lasting for longer than three months or beyond the normal time of healing).

The hidden truth about chronic pain

Often invisible, as the injured person may appear fine and seem to have recovered, pain sometimes brings with it misunderstandings in daily and work life when the person is disbelieved and stigmatized as a complainer, malingerer, or drug seeker. The truth is that chronic pain drastically impacts a person’s quality of life, including their physical, psychological, emotional, personal, and spiritual well-being, encompassed within family, social, and work responsibilities.

The best solution for managing chronic pain requires developing and being dedicated to a daily, personalized pain management plan. This includes accessing multidisciplinary pain care through health professionals like your doctor, an occupational therapist, and a psychologist; learning and implementing self-help skills such as pacing, meditation, and exercise; and actively directing one’s lifestyle toward meaningful, fulfilling activities and work. Continued changes to Canada’s health care system, improved education for health professionals, and the development of extensive programs for pain sufferers are needed to make this level of pain care possible.

Pain management essential in returning to work

Recent systematic literature reviews and consultations with injured workers and return to work specialists have revealed a pressing need to aggressively integrate effective pain management techniques with return to work planning. Optimal outcomes for transitioning back to work and continuing work while living with pain will depend on collaborative efforts to develop support programs, resources and alternative opportunities for workers, along with improved awareness building and knowledge transfer for employers, work colleagues, insurers, and helping professions like workers’ advisors.

Let’s work together to make a strong investment for Canadians with regards to safe work environments and vastly improved return to work scenarios that include sensitivity to necessary pain management.