|By Sharon Gray
A study on joint pain in sedentary office workers points to
the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs. The 15-month
study, called Working Well, will help determine whether a pain
self-management program affects employee productivity and absenteeism.
“Preliminary results of the study have found a high burden
of musculoskeletal pain in the workplace,” said Dr. Proton
Rahman, head of the St. Clare’s Rheumatology Research
Team and an associate professor of medicine at Memorial University.
“We hope to empower employees to take control of their
health and teach them skills to manage their pain, making them
happier and more productive members of the workforce.”
Partners on the research project are the Arthritis Society,
Newfoundland and Labrador Division, Atlantic Blue Cross Care,
Pfizer Canada Inc. and St. Clare’s Rheumatology Research
Team of the Health Care Corporation of St. John's.
Working WELL researchers found nearly 60 per cent of participants
suffered musculoskeletal discomfort at work. Reported conditions
include osteoarthritis (17.6 per cent), repetitive strain injury
(15.8 per cent), carpel tunnel syndrome (7.3 per cent), chronic
pain (6.7 per cent), fibromyalgia (5.5 per cent) and rheumatoid
arthritis (1.8 per cent).
A total of 165 individuals from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro,
Memorial University of Newfoundland and the St. John’s
Office of Atlantic Blue Cross Care enrolled in the study, with
67 in the control group and 98 in the intervention group. The
intervention program included six weeks of education seminars
with health care professionals on topics such as office ergonomics,
exercise, nutrition, stress management and coping skills. All
participants hold sedentary office jobs and spend at least half
the workday sitting.
Jill Seviour, a longtime physiotherapist for the St. John's
Health Care Corporation, worked with participants and said they
learned how to assess their work stations and about disease
prevention and self-management. “A couple of phone books
under your feet or a rolled towel to support your lower back
– these everyday items are available to everyone. We’re
looking at several factors that contribute to health, from ergonomics
at work and at home, exercise, nutrition, sleep and relaxation,
and how to communicate about physical and mental stress at work.”
The intervention group had 98 participants. Of those, 86 completed
the post-evaluation form and rated the program high in the categories
“understandability,” “informative” and
“recommendable.” In the intervention group, on average
there was a mean increase of 45 per cent in participants’
knowledge about workplace wellness and pain management.
“Employers recognize prevention and health education is
key to fighting rising health care costs,” said Laurier
Fecteau, vice-president, Marketing, Atlantic Blue Cross Care.
“They are interested in programs that can improve the
well-being of their employees, while increasing productivity
and potentially preventing or delaying the onset of disability.”
Arthritis and chronic pain significantly affect the quality
of life of thousands of working Canadians, and arthritis accounts
for 25 per cent of all long-term disability claims in the country.
“A program to help alleviate pain, significant discomfort
and decreased mobility in the working population is a positive
step for those who live with arthritis and musculoskeletal pain
every day,” said Beverly Byrd, executive director of the
Arthritis Society, Newfoundland and Labrador Division. “The
Arthritis Society is always supportive of finding solutions
to living and ‘working well’ with this disease.”
Pfizer Canada Inc. provided an unrestricted grant for the study.
“As a leader in the treatment of arthritis and pain, we
are committed to supporting innovative partnerships and initiatives
that improve health and wellness,” said Gerald McCarron,
senior manager of Patient Access and Health Policy for Pfizer
Canada Inc. in Atlantic Canada. “The Working Well program
is an important collaborative effort and the research will help
employers and employees alike.”
Dr. Rahman said the main driving force for the study was master’s
student Samra Mian, physiotherapist Jill Seviour and occupational
therapist Kim Doyle. The other participants were nurse Yvonne
Tobin, undergraduate student Karim Marzouk, and Drs. Tanis Adey
and Angela Penny.
“We are now awaiting the one year absenteeism data to
be gathered,” said Dr. Rahman. “If this program
increases knowledge and decreases absenteeism then we will then
do a large cost effectiveness study. If this is also positive
we will propose to widely implement the Working Well Program
widely to office workers.”