Addressing the Psychology of Pain: Returning to Work After an Injury

Topics: Opioids

After a worker suffers an injury on the job, a variety of factors come into play throughout his or her recovery. In addition to managing the physical pain, other issues related to the injury can impact his or her lifestyle. For example, a broken right foot means the individual cannot drive a car and must rely on others to get them to follow up appointments or pick up groceries. A muscle strain that results in chronic lower back pain can make even the most mundane daily tasks impossible, like bending down to get food out of an oven or laundry from the dryer.



Dealing with the pain from an injury means taking into consideration not only the physical issues, but the psychological factors, too. By not focusing on combining these aspects, the time it takes for the worker to recover could increase considerably. This, in turn, can add both time and cost to a workers’ compensation claim.


What is the Psychology of Pain?

injured worker talking to a psychologist

There’s no doubt that when it comes to managing chronic pain, medications have improved the quality of life for many people. 20 million Americans live with serious, chronic pain that impacts their professional, social and personal lives. However, in the midst of the opioid epidemic where every day more than 130 people in the country die from an opioid overdose, it’s clear that alternative treatments should and need to be considered.

Pain treatment is highly personalized to the individual’s specific needs. However, due to what’s known as the psychology of pain, the perception of pain, especially the perception of chronic pain, can intensify when adding in psychological, social and emotional factors. Additionally, studies show that the more individuals focus on the pain, the worse it tends to become.

According to Dr. Greg Corder, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, these psychological and physical factors can impact the treatment of chronic pain, as well as the development of opioid addiction. As head of the Penn Pain Perception Lab (P3 Lab) in the Department of Psychiatry and Department of Neuroscience, Dr. Corder leads a research team that is studying pain processing and the effects of opioids. He states “The perceived intensity of pain, and how it interferes with our daily routine is massively sculpted by our psychological and physical states. For example, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety are more likely to develop chronic pain after a surgical procedure and are at greater risk to develop an opioid use disorder.”

Dr. Corder adds, “to end addiction long-term we need new pain therapies that provide substantive pain relief with zero addiction liabilities.” By learning techniques that help reduce an individual’s focus on pain, such as through cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction and other brain-training therapies, pain can be relieved more effectively than through the use of opioids.


Returning to Work after an Injury: Psychological Support for Pain Management

Studies have shown that following a work-related injury that results in chronic pain, many individuals suffer from depression. When combined with the physical injury, depression plays a major role in slowing the recovery process and delaying the return to work. Plus, it’s common for these individuals to be prescribed opioids at higher doses. This makes diagnosing and treating the psychological effects of the injury as important as treating the physical pain. Healthcare providers and workers’ comp carriers should be prepared to offer the maximum support the individual needs to recover.

The difficulty lies in identifying the workers who need this psychological support. Looking for symptoms like changes in personality, how invested the individual is in the recovery process and returning to work, and the worker’s dependency on medications can reveal there are psychological components that need to be addressed. If left untreated, they can contribute not only to the employer’s disability claims, but to a loss in productivity and a boost in employee absences.

AmTrust Financial Partners with Optum for Effective Pain Management

AmTrust recognizes the risks injured workers face when struggling with managing their pain and returning to work, and through our partnership with Optum Workers' Comp and Auto No-Fault, a pharmacy care management company, we have helped to reduce the amount of unsafe, non-medically necessary prescriptions written. Launched in 2018, the initiative has already prevented nearly 13,000 prescriptions that could have been deemed unsafe. Additionally, AmTrust has the resources and insight to create customized workers’ compensation coverage plans for every customer.

For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.
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