Working through the pain hurts companies

Headaches, backaches and arthritis pain may not keep people home in bed, but they seem to affect how much gets done on the job.

A survey of nearly 29,000 working Americans found that about 13% had fewer productive hours in a two-week period because of four common types of pain. Overall, more than half of the surveyed workers reported a headache, backache, arthritis or other musculoskeletal pain in the previous two weeks. On average, pain cost workers 4.6 hours of productive time each week.

Lead researcher Walter F. Stewart, director of the Center for Health Research & Rural Advocacy for Geisinger Health Systems in Danville, Pa., said workers in pain might have trouble concentrating, work more slowly than usual or even put their heads down for a spell.

The findings, from a survey he conducted in 2001-02 for AdvancePCS, which manages prescriptions for pharmacies, suggest that many workers aren't getting treatment for common pain.

The study, in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn., pegged the price of the lost hours at $61.2 billion.

-- Jane E. Allen

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