Pain Management in Virginia Workers’ Compensation Cases


In a perfect world, an injured employee would receive medical treatment for his or her work-related injuries and heal completely. The recovery would go smoothly, there would be no permanent partial disability, and the injured worker would go back to his or her pre-injury work with no pain, symptoms, or other problems.


Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, especially in workers’ compensation cases involving serious injuries. Some injured workers never regain 100 percent function of their body or the injured body part and end up with chronic pain that lasts for the remainder of their lifetime.


Many Virginia workers’ compensation claims involve pain treatment and the use of prescription medication to treat the work injury. This article examines the role of pain management in workers’ compensation claims in Virginia.


What is Pain Management?


Pain management is a branch of medicine that focuses on improving the quality of life of those living with chronic pain. A pain management team may include multiple health care providers, including pain management doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, clinical psychologists, and therapists.


There are a few situations where you may be prescribed pain management in your workers’ compensation case:


1. When you have an injury but are not a surgical candidate. For example, you may be a nurse who suffered a herniated disc while lifting a patient. If your orthopedic doctor does not believe that you are a surgical candidate based on your clinical examination and a review of your lumbar spine MRI, but you continue to have pain and other symptoms, then he or she may refer you to a pain management doctor for treatment.


2. When you have healed orthopedically but continue to have pain. Let’s take the example above. But instead, the orthopedic surgeon decides that back surgery is necessary because the disc herniation is compressing your nerve root. After surgery you no longer have nerve root compression, but you continue to experience pain. Your orthopedic doctor may state that you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) from an orthopedic standpoint, but that pain management is necessary to try to reduce your symptoms.


Your pain management doctor may offer two types of treatment in the workers’ compensation case: (1) pain management with medication and (2) interventional pain management. Usually both types of pain management are offered at various times.


Pain Management with Medication in Workers’ Compensation Claims


Medication is used not only to treat the injury and pathology but also to treat symptoms and to relieve suffering during treatment and recovery.


In workers’ compensation pain management with medications may involve a combination of prescription medications to try to provide the injured worker with pain relief and increased function. Common medications used in workers’ compensation pain management include: narcotics; non-narcotic pain medications; antidepressants; muscle relaxers; analgesics; and, anticonvulsants.


If you’re receiving medication from a pain management doctor in your Virginia workers’ compensation case, you will likely be subject to drug testing to make sure you are taking your medication as prescribed. Make sure that you take the medications as prescribed and that you only take medication that your doctor prescribes you.


Interventional Pain Management in Workers’ Compensation


Interventional pain management involves actual procedures performed by your pain management doctor. The goal of the procedures is to try to provide long term pain relief and identify the exact origin of the pain.


Common interventions used to treat pain in workers’ compensation patients include: epidural steroid injections; radiofrequency ablations; spinal cord stimulators; and, face blocks. Usually these interventions are used to treat pain from work-related back and neck injuries, but we also see them used in shoulder and knee injury claims.


How Long Will Pain Management for a Work Injury Last?


The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act does not put a limit on how long pain management treatment may continue. So long as the pain management is reasonable, necessary, and helping to reduce your symptoms, the employer and its insurance carrier will have to pay for.


This doesn’t mean, however, that the insurance carrier will pay for your pain management treatment without a fight. Insurance companies look for ways to save money in workers’ comp claims – and making pain management difficult to receive is one way to do that.


Prescription medication costs account for a significant portion of workers’ compensation costs. In fact, the National Safety Council (NSC)  estimates that opioid pain medications account for more than 25% of workers’ comp drug claim costs. If there is any indication that the pain management is not making you better, the insurance company may try to deny authorization.


The law in Virginia, however, states that the insurance company must pay for palliative care. So if the pain management provides relief, even temporary relief, then the insurer is responsible for payment.


Potential Consequences of Pain Management in Workers’ Compensation


Addiction and overdose are potential consequences of relying on prescription opioid painkillers for a workers’ compensation injury. The NSC estimates that thousands of people die from opioid pain medication overdoses each year.


Because the body develops a tolerance to medication over time, the drug may become less effective at easing your pain. Make sure that you take your pain medication as prescribed and that you notify your doctor of any side effects. If the medication is not working, it’s important that your authorized treating physician and pain management doctor know so that they can provide alternative treatment.


Contact an Experienced Workers Compensation Attorney Today


If your work injury is causing pain and your employer’s insurance company is refusing to cover your pain medicine or pain management treatment, workers’ comp lawyer Corey Pollard can help. Call us today for a free consultation. We can help with every part of the workers’ compensation claims process, including negotiating a top-dollar workers comp settlement.


Corey Pollard protects the rights of injured employees and their families in Virginia workers compensation matters. Call, text, or email us now for a free strategy session. We help workers across the state, including those in Richmond, Chesterfield, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, Hampton, Newport News, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk.