Adapting principles of chronic pain self-management to the workplace

William S. Shaw, Torill H. Tveito, Mary Geehern-Lavoie, Yueng Hsiang Huang, Michael K. Nicholas, Silje E. Reme, Gregory Wagner, Glenn Pransky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Purpose: To evaluate the extent to which the principles of chronic pain or illness self-management (SM) programs might be adapted to focus on the workplace concerns of adults with persistent or recurrent pain and lead to new workplace intervention opportunities. Method: Eight SM programs were selected as representative evidence-based programs and then compared to extract common instructional elements. Elements were analyzed for potential application to four workplace problem domains identified by workers with pain: activity interference, negative self-perceptions, interpersonal challenges, and the inflexibility of work. Results: Of 24 instructional elements, 17 were shared by at least half of the SM programs. Instructional elements judged to be best suited for dealing with workplace concerns included those focused on reducing pain and discomfort, making informed decisions, communicating effectively, and dealing with thoughts and feelings. However, aspects of the workplace that may alter the feasibility or effectiveness of SM strategies include the level of physical demands and limitations, job leeway, and the nature of workplace roles and relationships. Conclusions: Principles and methods of SM intervention programs are generally well suited to address pain-related problems in the workplace, but tailoring of messages may be necessary to incorporate the unique organizational, physical, and social aspects of work into psycho-educational programs. Implications for Rehabilitation Chronic pain is a growing problem among working age adults that can contribute to workplace difficulties and disability. Pain self-management interventions applying psycho-educational techniques are generally well-suited for dealing with workplace problems. Pain self-management interventions may reduce pain and discomfort in the workplace, help with job-related problem-solving and decision-making, provide methods for communicating needs effectively, and deal with negative thoughts and feelings at work. Applying existing pain self-management techniques in the workplace requires that some changes be made to incorporate the unique organizational, physical, and social aspects of the workplace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)694-703
Number of pages10
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Low back pain
  • Pain self-management
  • Workplace intervention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation


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