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Pain. 2003 May;103(1-2):41-7.

Chronic pain, work performance and litigation.

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University of Sydney Pain Management and Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, NSW, Australia.


The overall population impact of chronic pain on work performance has been underestimated as it has often been described in terms of work-related absence, excluding more subtle effects that chronic pain may have on the ability to work effectively. Additionally, most studies have focussed on occupational and/or patient cohorts and treatment seeking, rather than sampling from the general population. We undertook a population-based random digit dialling computer-assisted telephone survey with participants randomly selected within households in order to measure the impact of chronic pain on work performance. In addition, we measured the association between pain-related disability and litigation. The study took place in Northern Sydney Health Area, a geographically defined urban area of New South Wales, Australia, and included 484 adults aged 18 or over with chronic pain. The response rate was 73.4%. Working with pain was more common (on an average 83.8 days in 6 months) than lost work days due to pain (4.5 days) among chronic pain participants in full-time or part-time employment. When both lost work days and reduced-effectiveness work days were summed, an average of 16.4 lost work day equivalents occurred in a 6-month period, approximately three times the average number of lost work days. In multiple logistic regression modelling with pain-related disability as the dependent variable, past or present pain-related litigation had the strongest association (odds ratio (OR)=3.59, P=0.001). In conclusion, chronic pain had a larger impact on work performance than has previously been recognised, related to reduced performance while working with pain. A significant proportion were able to work effectively with pain, suggesting that complete relief of pain may not be an essential therapeutic target. Litigation (principally work-related) for chronic pain was strongly associated with higher levels of pain-related disability, even after taking into account other factors associated with poor functional outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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