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Working With Chronic Pain: 6 Tips to Make it Suck Less

Updated: Jun 1, 2023


Businessman kneeling and grimacing from back pain at work

You’re hurting again. You barely slept, and you have no more PTO because you used it all for medical appointments. On your way to work, you give yourself a pep talk, but it's not doing any good.


Working with chronic pain sucks, and you’ve got no other choice but to deal with it or quit your job.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, one of the main reasons people seek health care services. Chronic pain is any pain that has lasted three months or longer.


Regardless of pain from an illness, trauma, disability, surgery, or genetics, chronic pain affects 1 in 5 individuals. It also dramatically impacts the workforce and economy due to lost productivity and wages, about $215 billion in the United States.


Pain can hang around your neck like an albatross, and its psychological toll can be immeasurable. Pain affects concentration, attitude, work ethic, and quality of life. Coping with issues such as changes in mood, lack of sleep, stress, and depression, while contending with job demands, it’s no wonder why chronic pain sufferers feel a bit snippy at work.


Here’s how to work full-time with chronic pain, making it suck a little less.


1. See a Pain Management Professional

If your pain has been undiagnosed or has not improved after numerous treatments, it may be beneficial to have your primary care provider refer you to pain management. Pain management providers are medical doctors who specialize in finding and managing the source of pain. They may use one or a combination of methods to provide pain relief, such as medications, physical therapy, steroid injections, nerve blocks, and pain management devices to help reduce or eliminate your pain.


2. Work from Home

If your employer allows it, do your job from home. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have allowed their employees to work from home, either full or part-time. Set up a quiet place where you can work comfortably, ergonomically, efficiently, and productively.


If you can’t work from home, it may be time to discuss your pain with your manager. Explain what you need to be more comfortable on the job, and together, maybe you can come up with ergonomic solutions to accommodate you.


Pay attention to your footwear. Invest in a quality pair of comfortable, well-fitting shoes to avoid foot problems. Ill-fitting footwear can lead to poor posture and health problems, including swelling, blisters, ingrown toenails, and neuropathy.


3. Move Your Body

Although counterintuitive, moving while in pain might make you feel better. Moving releases your body’s endorphins which provides some natural pain relief. When you’re at the office, take a walk during your break. Walk to the farthest bathroom or up and down a flight of stairs if you can. If weather permits, go outside for some fresh air and vitamin D.


Take the dog for a walk when working from home. Get up from behind your computer once an hour and take a few steps.


If walking is painful for you, try some chair exercises. There are many exercises you can do in a seated position, such as calf raises, torso twists, and many more.


Talk to your doctor about exercises that are safe for you to do. Go slow at first, don’t over-exert yourself, and stop if your pain worsens.


4. Play Your Favorite Music

There’s a reason why cars have radios and nightclubs have dance floors. Entertainment, sure. But it’s because music does soothe the savage beast, and chronic pain can be one hell of a beast. When your pain grabs you and won’t let go, pop in your earbuds at work, play your favorite music, and let your mind focus on it rather than the pain.


Music releases natural painkillers throughout your body, which can help ease your pain, reduce stress, and may even make you move that body.


Woman at work meditating at her desk

5. Meditate

Meditation has always been popular in some cultures and can provide pain relief. There are different types of meditation -mindful, visual, breathwork, and body scanning – each with unique focal points. Generally, meditation is the practice of focusing in the moment.


During meditation, the focus is on the pain rather than shifting it elsewhere. Take a quick break at work and find a quiet place to adjust your mental clarity, focus on your thoughts, and destress the mind and body.


Don’t know where to begin? Many classes, books, and videos are available to help get you started. Try some of these tips on how to meditate by Mindful.org.


6. When Working with Chronic Pain, Don’t Self-medicate

The last problem you need is to be in pain and loopy at work. Self-medicating with alcohol, recreational drugs, expired drugs, or prescription medications belonging to someone else is never a good idea. It’s also unsafe, especially if you drive, use heavy machinery, or have a dangerous job requiring high concentration levels.


Conclusion

You’re in pain, stressed, and need relief, especially working with chronic pain. Take your medications as prescribed. If they’re not working, talk to your doctor to devise a treatment plan to show you how to work with chronic pain as comfortably and safely as possible.


Your Turn. Do you suffer from chronic pain yet still have to work full-time? What tips or advice can you share for managing pain and making it through a workday? Please feel free to leave a comment below.


Note: This article is for information and should not replace your physician’s advice.


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