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Activity coaching helps injured workers manage pain without opioids

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The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is expanding a program to help injured workers manage chronic pain without opioids.

Dr. Gary Franklin, medical director for the state agency, said activity coaching is a program that runs up to 10 weeks and aims to help injured workers become more self-sufficient in managing their pain.

The department, which is Washington state's monopoly workers comp insurer, piloted activity coaching 18 months ago and is now expanding it statewide.

Patients meet with an activity coach for an hour each week, which can happen by phone, to assess the worker's pain, physical function and any psychological barriers for returning to work, such as overestimating the seriousness of their injury.

Based on their needs, injured workers are referred to resources to help them manage or improve their conditions, such as occupational and physical therapists.

The program is recommended for injured workers who have not returned to work four weeks after being injured and have not improved despite early interventions, according to the agency's website.

“We found among the workers who participated and did the whole program for five to 10 weeks, there were huge improvements” in their condition, Dr. Franklin said.