How to best manage your pain in the workplace
Remaining in work, despite persistent pain, is normally a good idea. Satisfying work is important for our wellbeing, whereas, long term absence and unemployment can have negative effects on our health.
In addition to the financial benefit, employment challenges us, gives us purpose and offers opportunities to socialise. Fit For Work physiotherapist Geraldine Kelly says chronic pain is usually defined as having pain on most days for at least three months. Understandably, people who develop persistent pain, can struggle with the physical aspects of their job including prolonged amounts of sitting, standing, walking, or lifting. Some employers may be unable or unwilling to change the demands of a job. In these cases, people with persistent pain may have to consider more suitable employment. Despite the obstacles, many people do return to work and if this is your goal, there are a few things to consider:
- Do you want to work?
It’s important to be honest. There is very little point in going through the motions of trying to work, if you don’t want to do it. At present, you might not feel like working but this may change when you find you have the ability to manage your pain and become confident again. Goal setting is a great way to start working out your priorities.
- Is it realistic to work with pain?
In general, the answer is yes. Many people work despite pain. If you have a good plan and negotiate with your employer about your needs and abilities, returning to work can be successful. Over time, as your pain becomes more manageable, you may find arrangements can be changed.
- How do you deal with stress?
Research has shown that those who are dissatisfied with their jobs, and who are stressed and unhappy at work, have more difficulty returning to work after an injury. Research into the way injured workers with back pain return to work found that those that learn effective ways of managing their stress have more success staying in employment.
- What is the alternative to work?
It is helpful to return to your normal activities as soon as possible as research as shown this improves an individual’s overall outcome. If you are not ready to return to paid employment just yet, doing voluntary work can be a first step. This will help you to feel useful and give you practical training, which will assist you in getting ready to return to more demanding work. On the other hand, long term work absence and unemployment are bad for our health and wellbeing.
It is important to look at the work environment and make sure it is as comfortable as possible. Advice from a specialist who has training in the area of ergonomics may be useful. Adjusting equipment alone will not be enough. It is important to assess work flow, the activities you perform and plan them so as you can make regular changes to your posture. An awareness of your posture and the ability to move and change postures is essential to optimise work productivity and optimise pain management.
We recommend that you try not to let pain prevent you from achieving your work goals. Remember, satisfying work is good for your health and wellbeing.
Dr. Michael Nicholas, Author of “Manage your Pain” 3rd Edition pg 230-235