Helping the 100 million people living with chronic pain are an estimated 42.1 million caregivers, who in their supportive efforts are themselves at risk for injury leading to chronic pain, according to researchers at Ohio State University’s (OSU) Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Here’s what you should know.
What are caregiver health risks?
The research from Ohio State University adds onto a body of knowledge that already shows caregivers are less likely to care for themselves by eating nutritional food and exercising, according to FamilyDoctor.org, the website of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
The stress of being a caregiver can lead to increased risks for cancer, diabetes, anxiety disorders, and heart disease. When stress levels rise and time constraints grow, self-care can take a back seat to caring for a loved one. Fortunately, by making time for exercising and healthy eating, caregivers can avoid much of the health risks they face.
The impact of chronic pain is frequently discussed from the perspective of those experiencing it, couched in terms of diminished life satisfaction, lost job time, and increased medical bills. But OSU researchers interviewed 46 caregivers and found the true impact of chronic pain is much more far-reaching.
Increased rates of pain
Chronic pain affects everybody—caregivers are at risk for becoming patients themselves, researchers discover. Nearly all the caregivers studied—94%—experienced some form of musculoskeletal pain during the study, researchers found. The lower back was the most common area of complaint, affecting 76% of people. Knees, shoulders, and wrists each affected 43% of study participants.
At highest risk for becoming part of the chronic pain statistics are the 14 million “high-burden” caregivers, defined as those spending at least 21 hours per week supporting those living with chronic pain. High-burden caregivers’ efforts frequently leave them with nagging shoulder, knee, or back pain. The helpers become patients. Ohio State occupational therapist Amy Darragh says:
“Almost all of the caregivers who participated in our study said they experience significant musculoskeletal discomfort related to caregiving activities, and that this discomfort can interfere with their ability to provide care, work, and participate in life activities.”
Increased risk of injury
In the study, 78% of caregivers said the pain prevented them from providing assistance. 66% said it affected their quality of life. Chronic pain caregivers find repetitive tasks leave them open to injury. This can result in diminished capacity to provide care and enjoy their lives.
Depending on the severity of chronic pain people experience, they may need help with anything from walking to dressing in the morning. Caregivers don’t have training for these tasks. This leaves them at risk for injury if done repetitively with improper form.
Tasks identified by caregivers as most difficult included transferring chronic pain patients from one place to another, bathing, helping them use the bathroom, walking up or down stairs, or rising from falls. When not performed with the proper technique, these tasks may lead to back or joint strain, according to the study.
Researchers tell the story of 67-year-old Margie, who helps her husband eat meals and navigate into or out of bed. She also pushes his wheelchair along the access ramp connected to their home. As a result, her back, shoulder, and knee continually bother her. This leaves both Margie and her husband unable to care for each other. Darragh adds:
“Interestingly, professional caregivers report similar experiences, but they have access to both training and technology that help them reduce their risk of injury.”
Conversely, informally appointed caregivers lack access to this crucial support, leaving them open to injury. Researchers hope to continue researching the specific activities that most commonly lead to injury and then identify ways to help caregivers avoid pain.
If you’re a caregiver, what challenges do you face? If you need additional support for managing yours or a loved one’s pain condition, contact us today.