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Pain management toolkit will be tested in workplaces to help people living with chronic or persistent pain

A woman holding her head in her hands with papers on the table in front of her

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have developed a digital toolkit designed to support employees with self-management of chronic pain at work. The aim is to improve their ability to work and be productive at work.

Professor Holly Blake, Professor of Behavioural Medicine at the School of Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, developed the Pain at Work (PAW) toolkit in partnership with people living with chronic or persistent pain, employers, healthcare professionals and the pain charity, Burning Nights.

This trial is one of six new research projects announced today (18 January 2023), which has been awarded funding from The Nuffield Foundation and Versus Arthritis. The two organisations have committed £1.94 million of funding to improve the well-being and working lives of people with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions.

The PAW toolkit is an open access, free, online resource, for people working in any role, organisation and sector. It includes individual stories from those living with chronic or persistent pain alongside content covering topics such as understanding chronic or persistent pain, returning to work, reasonable adjustments in the workplace, physical and psychological self-management techniques, and employment rights.

Speaking about the importance of a workplace trial, Professor Blake said: “More than 20 million adults in the UK are living with chronic pain and this figure is likely to rise. Chronic pain impacts on people’s physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their ability to work or be productive at work. Sickness, absence, and reduced productivity costs the UK economy around £73 billion per year.

“Access to support to help people manage their pain at work varies. Many people living with painful conditions don’t get the support they need either from clinical services or their employer. We’ve developed a digital toolkit that aims to build people’s knowledge, skills and confidence to support and effectively self-manage a painful condition at work.

“The research will explore the practicality, usefulness and acceptability of the Pain at Work toolkit for employees and managers in different workplace settings. We hope that, by using the toolkit, it will help employers retain people with chronic pain in the active workforce, improve the quality of people’s lives and reduce social inequality.”

Dr Catherine Dennison, lead for the Oliver Bird Fund Programme at the Nuffield Foundation, added: “These six research projects align around issues that can make it very challenging for people with MSK conditions to enjoy full and rewarding lives.

“We are really delighted to be partnering again with Versus Arthritis to fund research that aims to address some of these barriers and find new and better ways to support people with MSK conditions.”

Dr Sarah Rudkin, Head of Research Strategy and Growth at Versus Arthritis added: “Many of the issues linked to living with an MSK condition such as the inability to work, strain on mental health, deprivation, or social exclusion, cannot be addressed by medical treatments alone.

“More research is needed to understand the social, economic, and psychological reasons why people with MSK conditions are more at risk of these issues and, crucially, what can be done to prevent this, so that we can better support people to live well with their condition.

“These six projects – that will ensure those with lived experience are involved at every stage – will advance our understanding in all these areas and make a real difference for people living with conditions like arthritis.”

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