Pain At Work: 7 Tips To Deal With Your Day

Whether it’s an aching neck, sore feet, or simply overall discomfort, if you’ve had to work through pain on the job, you know how challenging it can be. Did you know: According to a national survey, nearly 90 percent of employees with chronic pain would rather go to work than call in sick, even though nearly half say pain affects their ability to do their job. In some cases, your workplace can be the direct or indirect cause of pain. Government figures report that 30 percent of workers’ compensation claims are due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

The next time pain strikes on a workday, try these techniques:

Practice Good Posture. A great number of chronic pain problems are caused by people slouching or sitting improperly in a chair, says Kathryn L. Hahn, PharmD, a pain management specialist in Springfield, Oregon.

“Whether you are sitting or standing, poor posture is a major culprit in causing back pain or making it worse,” she says. “Slouching or being hunched over can stress or pull the back muscles and cause pain. Having good posture helps maintain the natural curves of the back and keeps it strong.”

Set Up an Ergonomic Workstation. One simple way to ensure good posture and avoid workplace pain is by practicing correct ergonomics — the concept of keeping the body in proper alignment while at work. Ideally, you should learn how to position your hands on the keyboard to avoid the pain of repetitive strain injury.

“For office workers or anyone who finds themselves regularly using a computer in their job, posture training is key to ensuring that good ergonomics are maintained,” says Moshe Lewis, MD, a pain management specialist in private practice in Redwood City, Calif. “Ideally, an ergonomic assessment by an occupational therapist who is trained in the prevention of workplace injuries is recommended,” adds Dr. Lewis.

Move During Your Breaks. Taking a break every couple of hours or as needed is critical to avoid chronic pain while working. Lewis suggests going the extra step of getting up and walking around as much as you can to keep the body limber and strong.

“Movement is an effective mode of avoiding or eliminating pain in the workplace,” he says. “Workers should walk around or at least stand-up and stretch in place frequently if they are unable to leave their desk. Also, try walking instead of using inter-office mail or e-mail, and take the stairs instead of the elevator as you try to stay one step ahead of the pain.”

Get Help for Heavy Lifting. One of the most common workplace injuries comes from lifting objects that are too heavy for you, especially when you are already living with pain. In most work settings, from construction sites to hospitals to warehouses, there are plenty of people around to prevent your chronic pain from getting worse.

“Lifting heavy objects is one of the easiest ways to injure your back — always ask someone to help you,” says Hahn. “Also, learn to lift properly to avoid pain. Squat, keep the object close to you, and bend and lift with your knees, not your back,” she says. “Push, do not pull, when moving heavy objects across the floor.”

Wear Comfortable Shoes. Another simple step that Hahn recommends to avoid chronic pain at work is to select the right shoes. Make sure your shoes fully support your feet and offer plenty of room for your toes. To save yourself pain, you may need to save the high heels for social occasions.

“If you stand or walk for long periods each day, be sure to wear flat, comfortable shoes with good arch support,” she says.

Talk to Your Boss or Human Resources Manager. If you are experiencing chronic pain on the job, hiding your problem is only going to make it worse. Ideally, you’ll want to discuss reasonable accommodations or adjustments that will address your pain and help you improve your productivity.

“Many people living with pain are fearful of talking to their boss,” says Micke A. Brown, RN, a pain management nurse, and director of communications for the American Pain Foundation. “It is important to recognize those fears and prepare to talk with your employer or human resources director in a conversational, honest manner.”

Take Care of Your Body. Good health habits shouldn’t just be common practice at the workplace. Coping with pain, especially chronic pain, often requires around-the-clock effort. Taking care of your overall health and physical condition is a good first line of defense in preventing pain and a must in managing it.

“Maintaining a healthy weight, sticking with a light aerobic and strength training program, and eating a healthy diet is essential,” Hahn says.

When Your Pain Isn’t Normal…

Whether you’ve got an achy back, neck, wrists, or more, if your pain doesn’t go away, talk to your doctor to find out what pain relief treatments will work for you…and what else may be behind your pain.