Context: Common pain conditions appear to have an adverse effect on work, but no comprehensive estimates exist on the amount of productive time lost in the US workforce due to pain.
Objective: To measure lost productive time (absence and reduced performance due to common pain conditions) during a 2-week period.
Design and setting: Cross-sectional study using survey data from the American Productivity Audit (a telephone survey that uses the Work and Health Interview) of working adults between August 1, 2001, and July 30, 2002.
Participants: Random sample of 28 902 working adults in the United States.
Main outcome measures: Lost productive time due to common pain conditions (arthritis, back, headache, and other musculoskeletal) expressed in hours per worker per week and calculated in US dollars.
Results: Thirteen percent of the total workforce experienced a loss in productive time during a 2-week period due to a common pain condition. Headache was the most common (5.4%) pain condition resulting in lost productive time. It was followed by back pain (3.2%), arthritis pain (2.0%), and other musculoskeletal pain (2.0%). Workers who experienced lost productive time from a pain condition lost a mean (SE) of 4.6 (0.09) h/wk. Workers who had a headache had a mean (SE) loss in productive time of 3.5 (0.1) h/wk. Workers who reported arthritis or back pain had mean (SE) lost productive times of 5.2 (0.25) h/wk. Other common pain conditions resulted in a mean (SE) loss in productive time of 5.5 (0.22) h/wk. Lost productive time from common pain conditions among active workers costs an estimated 61.2 billion dollars per year. The majority (76.6%) of the lost productive time was explained by reduced performance while at work and not work absence.
Conclusions: Pain is an inordinately common and disabling condition in the US workforce. Most of the pain-related lost productive time occurs while employees are at work and is in the form of reduced performance.