Back to work with pain

At last, something dear to my heart hits the news!

I dropped into MedWorm and skimmed the headlines just a moment or two ago, and found this!!!

It was entitled ‘Hope for low back pain sufferers’ and initially my heart sank – not another ‘we can fix you’ article promising much relief from pain but possibly not delivering it… And then I read on.

Now medical research charity the Arthritis Research Campaign has awarded a three-year primary care fellowship of almost £132,000 to occupational therapist Carol Coole at The University of Nottingham, to develop more effective ways in which the NHS can work with employees with back pain – and their employers – to ensure that back pain doesn’t drive them away from the workplace.

Being able to remain working is of critical importance to everyone involved in the experience of back pain – the person with pain who doesn’t want to lose his or her job, and at the same time doesn’t want to suffer from their pain; the employer who doesn’t want to lose productivity or face the costs of finding a new employee; the health care funder who doesn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on treatments only to find that the outcomes just aren’t there (the longer someone stays off work, the longer they are likely to continue to stay off work); and finally, for health care providers who really don’t want to continue to have a person fronting up for help for their back pain without adequate supports that they can be referred to.

In 1995, at Burwood Hospital, Christchurch, I developed a pain management programme specifically to help people who wanted to return to work despite having ongoing pain. Despite various changes and the eventual demise of that particular programme (WorkAbilities), the specific focus on integration of vocational issues within pain management has been a theme at Burwood Hospital Pain Management Centre ever since. It’s absolutely vital that people who experience pain are given every support to help them return to normal life roles including work – better for health, better for quality of life, and better economically.

I’ll be writing more on this over time, but for now it’s GREAT to see that a significant research award has been given to an occupational therapist to address this compelling issue. I hope that many more health providers will consider how important generalising the use of pain management skills to all situations including work can be to people with chronic pain.

Congratulations to Nottingham University and Carol Coole – way to go!!


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