Chronic Pain Study Reveals Link to Early Retirement

By Alana Smart / March 27, 2024 / Blog ,

Chronic Pain Study Reveals Link to Early Retirement

An estimated 50 million adults in the United States experience chronic pain. For many individuals, grappling with chronic pain can cause challenges in maintaining employment. Moreover, for those who do continue to work, the burden of chronic pain takes a toll on their productivity. Chronic pain often leads to difficulties in functioning at work, presenteeism, and absences, ultimately impacting their income. Recent research out of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom has shed light on the far-reaching consequences of chronic pain, particularly its link to early retirement and workforce withdrawal among older adults.

Chronic Pain and Workforce Dynamics

Led by Dr. Nils Niederstrasser, the study delved into data from over 1,000 individuals aged 50 and above who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Examining data spanning 14 years, the researchers uncovered a complex relationship between chronic musculoskeletal pain and employment status. 

Participants provided self-reports on their job status, ranging from retirement to various employment categories. Those selecting “retired” or “semi-retired” were categorized accordingly. Additionally, participants disclosed predictors of retirement, including job satisfaction, depressive symptoms, self-perceived social status, frequent musculoskeletal pain, age, sex, wealth quintile, working conditions, and marital status. By the end of the study, 1073 participants had retired.

The Role of Chronic Pain in Retirement Decisions

Amidst their investigation into job satisfaction and various work-related factors, chronic pain emerged as a central factor, significantly influencing retirement decisions. The data showed that individuals who complained of musculoskeletal pain more often tended to retire earlier. Moreover, those dealing with chronic musculoskeletal pain were 1.25 times more likely to leave their jobs, regardless of whether they “officially retired.” Even after controlling for the other variable predictors of retirement, chronic musculoskeletal pain remained a strong predictor of early retirement or premature workforce departure.

“It is remarkable that pain predicts earlier retirement and work cessation to a similar extent or even more strongly than other variables, such as job satisfaction or specific job demands,” the researchers said. “It shows just how much impact pain can have on all aspects of people’s lives.”

The study did not reveal the reasons the participants left their workplace. However, the researchers speculate that individuals may have left their jobs because the pain made it difficult for them to continue working. Additionally, some participants may have believed that their job would lead to increased pain levels in the future. Employers could have pushed them out due to their lowered productivity or a declining sense of contributing to the workplace overall.

Echoes from the CDC: Understanding Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders

These findings echo the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insights, emphasizing the widespread impact of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) on workforce sustainability. From everyday issues such as sprains and strains to more severe conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, the spectrum of MSK issues illuminates the challenges workers face. The Institute of Medicine’s estimation of the economic burden of WMSDs, ranging from $45 to $54 billion annually in compensation costs, lost wages, and productivity losses, underscores the urgent need for proactive interventions to safeguard both personal well-being and organizational health.

Addressing Chronic Pain in the Workplace

The researchers concluded that identifying the reasons that people with pain may leave the workforce would be vital to understanding what can be done to help people living with pain. “Further research should establish the mechanisms and decision-making involved in leaving the workforce in people with frequent [musculoskeletal] pain.” 

It is essential to identify the reasons why employees with chronic pain leave their jobs. However, it is equally important to take preventive measures. Employees may not use the resources available due to lack of information, inconvenience, cost, or the stress of taking time off. Employers can help manage current musculoskeletal conditions and prevent them from happening by providing cost-effective and accessible care options, ergonomic education, and equipment.



Ready to elevate your workforce’s health? Partner with NMS Health for your occupational health screenings. With NMS Health, you are not just identifying and preventing future illness; you’re investing in a safer, healthier future for your team. Get started today!

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