Ravenlaw gratefully acknowledges the contribution of this post by articling student Megan Fultz

Recent estimates indicate that about 6 million people in Canada (approximately 19% of our population) experience some form of chronic pain. Because chronic pain is experienced differently by each individual, and can present itself in many different forms, it is difficult to diagnose. Individuals living with chronic pain often face significant barriers to appropriate treatment and accommodation in all aspects of life, including the workplace. Chronic pain can make it difficult or impossible to continue working, leading to a claim for long-term disability (LTD) benefits. The LTD claims process is challenging for those with chronic pain, because it can be hard to prove that the individual meets the requirements for LTD benefits due to his or her chronic pain.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is hard to define because pain itself is experienced at such an individual level. Pain for one person resulting from an injury or condition may be manageable, whereas pain from that same injury or condition may be totally disabling for another. Chronic pain is often defined as pain lasting longer than the average timeline for healing. When the pain someone experiences has outlived the expected time period for healing affected tissues, the pain has become chronic and the individual is experiencing Chronic Pain Syndrome (CPS). Unlike acute pain that is associated with a specific injury, chronic pain is long-lasting and persistent, and sometimes does not respond to medical treatments.

Chronic pain can stem from many causes. Sometimes people experience chronic pain as a symptom of another existing or acquired condition. Other times, Chronic Pain Syndrome is the condition, developing out of an injury or other physically traumatic event.

What is Fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by chronic, widespread muscular-skeletal pain and other associated symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and mood fluctuation. Fibromyalgia is an example of a prevalent, but difficult to diagnose, chronic pain condition. Many of the characteristics of Fibromyalgia will not show up in a medical test or scan and yet the condition itself can be incredibly debilitating.

Making a long-term disability benefits claim for chronic pain 

In order to make a successful claim for long-term disability benefits on the basis of chronic pain, it is important to work closely with your doctor in discussing possible causes of the pain and potential treatment options. If your chronic pain results from an injury or condition known to cause pain, it may be easier to identify and confirm this through medical testing. If you are living with Fibromyalgia,
Chronic Pain Syndrome or another condition that is difficult to diagnose through medical testing, it may be more challenging to succeed in your claim. Either way, it is vital to demonstrate that you are pursuing any options available to you and following the treatment plan recommended to you by your doctor.

It is important throughout the LTD claims process to be diligent in keeping records of the pain you have experienced and the treatments you have undergone and their intended/actual effect. Especially if the cause of your pain is hard to identify and confirm, it is crucial that you are recording how it has progressed, so that any possible patterns may be identified and/or correlations with other factors (environment, sleep, diet, activity level, etc.) In all cases, it is very important to be honest and candid about your pain levels, and to keep lines of communication open with your doctors.

Throughout the LTD claims process, you and your doctor will need to be able to comment on several important areas: your symptoms, their impact on you (the limitations and restrictions they create in your life), any progress or regression you experience, any treatment accessed and its impact, and future plans to manage your condition.

Chronic Pain and Mental Health 

While chronic pain is primarily physical in nature, it can also have a substantial effect on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. Living with pain for long periods of time – and sometimes for the entirety of a person’s life – can take a significant toll on an individual’s psychological state. When the cause of pain is unknown, but the symptoms persist, it can be even more frustrating and stressful for the affected individual. It is important to be aware of the effects of chronic pain on mental health, to document any mental health symptoms you are experiencing, and to work with your doctors to manage these symptoms as well.

Chronic pain affects millions of Canadians and continues to be a very challenging condition to manage. In order to successfully apply for LTD benefits for chronic pain and related conditions, it is important to document as much information as possible about your daily symptoms and treatments, and remain in open communication with your doctors throughout the process. 

[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without consideration of your individual circumstances.]