The Impact and Burden of Chronic Pain in the Workplace: A Qualitative Systematic Review


  • Disclosures: This study was funded by Pfizer Inc. Dawn Carroll is a paid employee of Pfizer. Ajay S. Patel, Rachel Farquharson and Jodie Barden are or were employees of Abacus International, a health outcomes consultancy commissioned by Pfizer Europe to conduct the systematic review., Rod S. Taylor, Ceri J. Phillips and Andrew Moore have had specified relationships with Pfizer and have received financial reimbursement. The authors thank Dr. Rachael D Baker-Searle (Abacus International) for assistance in writing the article.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ajay S. Patel, BSc, Abacus International, 6 Talisman Business Centre, Talisman Road, Bicester, Oxfordshire OX26 6HR, U.K. E-mail:


Background:  Chronic pain (CP) poses a diverse and substantial burden for employees, employers, and society. The deleterious consequences of CP in the workplace are frequently underestimated.

Objective:  To estimate the burden of CP in the European workplace.

Methods:  A systematic review following PRISMA statement guidelines was conducted to identify studies reporting work-related outcomes for people with CP. EMBASE, MEDLINE, EconLit, and Cochrane Library databases were searched up to 18th August 2010.

Results:  We identified 91 observational studies. Few were specifically designed to investigate the association between CP, productivity, and employment. The focus for this review was studies clearly reporting outcomes relating to the burden of CP on employment status (n = 37), sickness absence (absenteeism, n = 47), and loss of productivity because of reduced ability at work (presenteeism, n = 8).

Conclusion:  The body of evidence identified from the systematic review indicates that CP has a substantial negative impact on work-related outcomes, supporting the importance of interventions to reduce the burden of CP. Well-designed prospective studies specifically assessing the direct consequences of CP on employment are needed to confirm these findings.