How to reduce pain in your business

Blogs 5 Sep 2022

September is Pain Awareness Month. Every organisation should know how it’s affected by pain. Here’s what you need to know.

This article was first published in First Voice. Written by Caroline Marlow, Director of L&M Consulting.

Pain means different things to different people. For business owners, it can bring worry for a valued team member, damage colleague workload and morale, and lead to increasing costs such as sick pay, cover and recruitment. Of course, if you have pain, it can range from an inconvenience to a threat to business continuity and even your firm’s future.

Fortunately, pain science is coming to the rescue. In Pain Awareness Month, here’s what you need to know.

Pain is likely to be in your workplace

Chronic pain affects 1/3 of UK adults every day. It also occurs across age groups, with an estimated 18 per cent of 16-34 year-olds, 29 per cent of 35-44s, and 39 per cent of 45-54s having chronic pain (Fayaz, et al., 2016).

The Health and Safety Executive’s annual Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMSD) Report gives further insight. WRMSD are injuries to muscles, joints and tendons that are caused or aggravated by work activities and the work environment. They develop over time, can come and go, or remain constant. Figures from the HSE suggest 29.4 per cent of all work-related ill-health is due to WRMSD, i.e., 470,000 people (HSE, 2021).

Pain might not be what you think

Technological advances have revolutionised our understanding of what happens inside us when we feel pain, and therefore how pain is caused and solved. Alas, it’s shown that much of what we think we know is incorrect.

Most importantly, we now know that pain doesn’t equate well with tissue damage. This is why someone can have pain where an amputated limb used to be, and why two people can have similar scan results, but one has excruciating pain, while another has none.

We also now know that no part of our body can detect or feel pain. Instead, we feel pain when the brain decides we’re in danger. This is based on our memories, perception of the current situation, and emotions, which of course can be affected by an array of physical, psychological and social factors. As with everything else that our brain does repeatedly, we can ‘learn’ to feel pain. In fact, pain scientists believe it’s impossible for anyone with chronic pain not to have learnt to feel pain: the longer we feel it, the better we will have learnt it.

So, what does this mean?

The good news is that if we use this new information, we as individuals and business owners can have more control over pain than we might think. We can do this by finding out and addressing the physical, psychological and social factors within the person and workplace that cause the individual to, often unconsciously, think they’re in danger.

It also means that we need to reconsider how much we can expect X-rays, surgery and pain meds to provide the solution, and question whether many work-related musculoskeletal disorders and repeat absence can be prevented. 

What you need to do about pain

Within the workplace, every organisation should know how it’s affected by pain. At least, what types of pain are experienced, how it affects productivity, and any explanatory trends, e.g., a specific role, change, pressure.

You should also look across your culture and practices to see what you can do to prevent pain. Often hidden are the ways that the workplace perpetuates pain myths or discourages the thoughts and actions that prevent or reduce pain, e.g., that pain is physical or ‘all in the mind’, that you need to wait for medical results, or fully rest.

These can hide across your business, so it’s important to educate all staff about pain, and to ensure that policy, strategy and managerial approaches are pain-informed. Crucially, if someone has pain, all relevant parties should be involved in deciding and doing what will help, and indeed, consider whether the changes might benefit others.

For you or anyone with pain: For peace of mind, always see a GP or a registered physical health professional to check for ‘red flags’, e.g., disease, illness, fracture. Also, find out up-to-date information of how pain works. Crucially, you should never ignore pain. Instead, if you feel pain, work out what’s causing it and act to reduce the brain’s perception of danger asap by doing what you know will help.

Generally, we know that how we feel affects pain and recovery, so it helps if you manage stress, expect to recover and keep a positive mind-set. What you do is also important: Again, myths abound here!

First, keep moving – it should never be painful either during or after, but move within ‘discomfort’ levels. Second, be aware that drinking alcohol is not a solution. In fact, over time it increases pain sensitivity and can lead to troubled drinking.

Finally, know that all pain medication has potential side-effects, while no medication is a long-term solution if it’s solely to reduce pain. Instead, have frank discussions with your doctor and do the above to help.

First published in First Voice magazine

First Voice is published by the Federarion of Small Businesses. Explore small business news, advice and opinion articles that first featured in our award-winning business magazine.