On-the-job injury, pain and PTSD: pinpointing the connection in workers compensation and return to work cases

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, PhD

The connection between

pain and PTSD

is making headlines with regard to returning veterans and their likelihood to receive prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. According to the

Los Angeles Times

, a new study has shown links between PTSD diagnoses and opioid painkiller prescriptions among military veterans – as well as a disturbing prevalence of such prescriptions for PTSD-stricken veterans with substance-use disorders. Researchers behind the study suggest that these results indicate a need for better understanding of the connection between pain and PTSD; and while the issue is undoubtedly paramount for veterans and their families, it can also be a major factor in rehabilitation and return-to-work efforts for civilian workers struggling with pain and PTSD as a result of on-the-job injuries.

Medical studies have shown that patients suffering from chronic pain – be they civilian or military – have an increased chance of developing comorbid (or simultaneous and causally related) anxiety and depressive disorders, including PTSD. Study results suggest that up to 50% of patients who experience chronic pain as a result of on-the-job injury also develop comorbid PTSD, while 40%-80% develop symptoms of depressive illness. Patients who have sustained head injuries are particularly likely to experience these disorders – and when it comes to successful rehabilitation and return-to-work programs, this connection is both critical and complex.

After a traumatic injury, patients are often reduced to a much lower level of activity, mobility and productivity – consequences that can take their toll on one’s psychological and emotional state and result in depressive feelings and illness. These social and psychological ramifications of pain can pose a significant roadblock for workers attempting to rehabilitate themselves; but without the help of an experienced psychologist who is also a qualified medical evaluator, it can be difficult for employers and workers compensation medical providers to accurately assess and prove the severity of any given patient’s comorbid disorder.

Fair assessment, adequate treatment and efficient RTW: objectives for a successful workers compensation program

The psychological intricacies of workers compensation cases can complicate diagnoses and subsequent rehabilitation efforts, opening the door for workers comp fraud in some cases and leaving patients with incomplete treatment in others. Ultimately, it is essential to enlist the services of a

Qualified Medical Evaluator

to ensure the most accurate diagnoses possible. To learn more about psychological evaluations for workers compensation cases involving chronic pain, depression and PTSD, visit

or email