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Research Summaries

Chronic Pain in Public Safety Personnel: A Pervasive Problem

Keywords: Pain, Public Safety Personnel (PSP)

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Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) may regularly experience working conditions that demand intense physical effort, and exposure to trauma. Their working conditions may lead to chronic pain (defined as pain lasting longer than three months). Chronic pain is relatively common in the general population, but may be even more common among in PSP. There has been some research on short-term pain in PSP; however, research on chronic pain is lacking. If chronic pain is a common problem for PSP, more research may help to provide relief and protect against injury.

What was done in the study?

The current study was designed to estimate how common chronic pain is for Canadian PSP. Data was gathered with an anonymous online survey where approximately 5000 self-reported on their experiences with chronic pain.

What was found?

  • About 40.2% of participating PSP reported chronic pain.
  • Correctional workers were most likely to report chronic pain (45.4%).
  • Chronic pain appears to be more common in PSP than the general public.
  • The most common area for chronic pain was the lower back with many paramedics (28.9%) reporting more chronic lower back pain than other PSP groups.
  • About 40.2% of chronic pain was reported as resulting from work-related activities.

Where do we go from here?

Chronic pain was commonly reported by participants from all PSP sectors and many identified their work-related activities as the cause. The percentage of PSP groups reporting chronic pain ranged from 35.3% (Firefighters) to 45.4% (Correctional Workers). The current estimates suggest chronic pain may be more common among PSP than the general population. The prevalence rates reported in the current study may be an underestimate because all participants were still on active duty. Some types of pain (e.g., back pain) were more common among specific groups of PSP, and the differences may guide future efforts to prevent and treat pain more effectively. Future researchers may also examine the links between chronic pain, trauma, and mental illness.

The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current lay summary.

Original Article: Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., El-Gabalawy, R, Sareen, J., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2017). Chronic pain among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Journal of Pain, 1(1), 237-246. Doi: 10.1080/24740527.2017.1410431

Summary prepared by: Cottenie, K and Kossick, E. September 2019. Edited by Martin, R September 2019

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