Employee wellness programs may help with back or neck pain

Aug 9 2011
In the ongoing struggle against chronic disease - and persistent neck or lower back pain certainly qualifies as such - American workers can increasingly count on the help of their employers.

As a result of the escalating costs of healthcare benefits in recent years, many companies have been turning to wellness programs that aim to identify and tackle a host of health issues that may make employees less productive and drive costs in the long run. These include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as conditions such as back pain, which often stems from leading a sedentary life and spending long hours behind a desk.

Recently, researchers from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit set out to find out if such programs delivered tangible benefits.

For the purpose of the study, the team recruited 1,400 workers and analyzed their health outcomes beginning in 2007. These individuals participated in group wellness programs that consisted of 18 to 24 hours of sessions spread over several months. During those sessions, they focused on mind and body techniques - including proper breathing and blocking unwanted thought patterns - to achieve stress relief and muscle relaxation.

The results suggested that 76 percent of participants reported an alleviation - and nearly 40 percent experienced a complete elimination - of chronic pain symptoms, which most often affected their back, neck, hips, shoulders, knees, head and stomach.

Much of this relief can be attributed to lower stress levels among the workers, as 74 percent of them reported being less stressed and anxious after three years.

Overall, some 70 percent of the employees said they no longer needed to rely on pain medications for day-to-day functioning.

Stressing the cost effectiveness and measurable advantages of such programs, Alba Rodriguez, PhD, associate director of the Henry Ford's Center for Integrative Wellness, said that "chronic pain and stress are intricately related and the importance of stress as a causal and/or aggravating factor in most chronic illnesses cannot be underestimated."

The American Academy of Pain Medicine estimates that some 25 percent of Americans have persistent or chronic pain, which is believed to cost employers more than $61 billion each year in lost productivity. The main causes of recurrent or persistent pain in U.S. residents are headache, back pain and neck pain, the organization states.