March 11, 2011

Chronic Pain and Workers' Compensation Claims

By: Michael E. Memberg, Esq.

The term “pain” has many connotations. Webster’s Dictionary provides at least nine definitions of the word, including: “[a] symptom of some physical hurt or disorder”; “[e]motional distress; a fundamental feeling that people try to avoid”; and “[a] somatic sensation of acute discomfort.”

Recently, TIME conducted a special investigation on this issue ranging from diagnosis to treatment. Articles include discussions on various chronic pain conditions (e.g. chronic regional pain syndrome or fibromyalgia), traditional medical treatments (e.g. medication, surgery, spinal cord stimulators), and alternative treatments (e.g. acupuncture), from the perspective of both medical professionals and patients. The lead article can be viewed here:,8599,2057269,00.html

Both the causation and treatment of chronic pain make it difficult for employers/insurers to handle claims and limit exposure. Every person handles pain differently—one employee might return to work following back surgery, and another might remain totally disabled following a wrist sprain. Furthermore, doctors vary greatly in their opinions on chronic pain—some will immediately refer a patient to pain management, while others believe pain is more psychosomatic and easily exaggerated.

Chronic pain is frustrating for all participants in a workers’ compensation claim—doctors have difficulty diagnosing and treating the pain; employees feel like no one is listening to them; and employer/insurers are often left to pay for years of ongoing benefits. The resulting effect is that workers’ compensation claims involving chronic pain are more likely to linger and are difficult to resolve, particularly in cases where Medicare concerns will arise.

As claims involving chronic pain become increasingly common, it is even more important to maintain good communication with the injured worker and the treating physicians. Employers/insurers may need to consider more alternative treatments options such as massage therapy and acupuncture. As in any claim, there will be red flags and warning signs in these cases that call into question the legitimacy of the claim. However, the longer such a claim takes to resolve the more important it is for the participants involved to consider all options.

If you have questions or comments, please reply to this post or contact your David & Rosetti attorney at 404-446-4488 or by visiting our website at

Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice or opinion on specific facts. For editorial comments or suggestions, please contact David W. Willis at (404) 446-4491 or

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