According to recent research, almost 1 in 5 North Americans suffer from chronic pain—and that’s in no small part due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which are conditions that affect a person’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, etc.

MSDs fall into three categories: acute injuries (fractures, sprains and strains), degenerative conditions (arthritis, chronic lower back pain) and extended injuries, which are caused by chronic overuse or repetitive strain and are among the most prevalent in the workplace. But whether an employee’s MSD is caused by their duties or not, it can still have an impact on their work—and lead to three costly consequences for employers.

Healthcare Utilization

MSDs account for almost $20 billion in direct costs (that is, medication, surgery and other treatments) every year. And much of that cost is due to an overreliance on two types of treatment: surgery and medication. Surgical treatment for MSDs is on the rise, and so are painkiller prescriptions. In the U.S., one in five people with chronic pain are prescribed opioids, which drives medical spend—and may even be contributing to that country’s opioid crisis.

Lower Productivity

But it’s not just about direct costs. Workers who have an MSD may need more sick days than most employees—on average, people with neck or back pain miss 11.4 days of work annually. In fact, the National Business Group on Health says after the common cold, back pain is the second most common reason adults 45 and under miss work.

And even when employees are at their desks, they may not be able to do their best work. Researchers say between six and nine percent of workers who have an MSD report a loss of productivity due to pain and discomfort. And they’re right; pain has a demonstrated impact on cognitive function, which is why a 2011 report from the Institute for Health and Productivity Management estimates absenteeism and presenteeism together cost employers $109 billion annually.

Mental Health

Pain is also linked to poorer mental health. In fact, 65% of people with depression also have chronic pain, and 27% of all people with chronic pain also have depression. This is because “chronic pain causes a number of problems that can lead to depression, such as trouble sleeping and stress,” according to the Mayo Clinic. And the connection goes both ways; depression increases the severity of pain. You can probably guess the unfortunate impact of this link: greater healthcare spend. A 2015 study in the journal Clinical Psychology says the cost of a major depressive episode is $2,000—and that’s above and beyond the price tag for specific MSD treatments, absenteeism and lost productivity.

What Can Employers Do to Reduce MSD-Related Spending?

All told, employers are spending between $45 and $54 billion due to chronic pain. It’s no wonder a third of employers’ healthcare budgets go toward MSDs.

But there is a way to cut costs without compromising your employees’ health. Sarjan Health has developed a personalized digital health program based on best practice care guidelines from expert bodies such as American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society that tackles all three effects of MSD in the workplace.

The program utilizes care models that have been proven to reduce pain and prevent surgeries in dozens of clinical trials. Researchers have found that, over time, well-planned and structured non-surgical options have produced better results than surgeries. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen with Sarjan Health’s digital program, which leads to a 50% reduction in surgery and a 40% reduction in pain for participants who undergo the program.

Do you want to reduce your healthcare costs—and help your employees become healthier? Register for webinar today!