Study: Workers in Pain Don't Excel

November 11, 2003 ( - Workers in pain from head and backaches, arthritis, and other muscle and joint ailments can only manage sub-par performance and end up costing employers more than $60 billion annually in lost productivity.

According to a new study, based on a survey of 28,902 white- and blue-collar workers, the employer impact doesn’t come from absenteeism. Results of the study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the Associated Press reported.

The pain-cost study suggests many workers aren’t receiving adequate treatment for treatable “garden variety pain,” resulting in unnecessary workplace costs, said epidemiologist Walter Stewart of Geisinger Health Systems in Danville, Pennsylvania, the lead author. The findings should raise awareness among workers, doctors and employers, who might be able to help keep pain-related costs down by launching workplace awareness campaigns about treatment options, Stewart said.

Employers also could reduce pain-related costs by investing in things such as properly positioned computer stations or instruction on how to lift heavy objects, said Allen Lebovits, a pain management specialist at New York University Medical Center.

According to the survey, nearly 53% of workers reported having pain during the previous two weeks, and 13% said they had a pain-related loss in productivity. The average amount of lost time was 4.6 hours per week. The total nationwide cost of pain-related lost productivity was estimated at $61.2 billion yearly, based on a formula using wage data and including converting reduced performance into lost hours.