According to the United States Department of Labor, Labor Day is a “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Since it’s estimated that around 100 million United States citizens suffer from chronic pain, it’s safe to assume that a lot of our country’s workers deal with pain and discomfort on a regular basis.
Thankfully, there are several simple workplace changes that can help you manage your chronic pain.
1. Talk to your boss
Pain levels can fluctuate from day to day, sometimes even from minute to minute. If your pain flares up and you need to leave early, your boss will probably be a lot more understanding if you’ve discussed your chronic pain condition with him or her in advance.
Speaking with your boss is also a good opportunity to bring up workplace accommodations. For instance, many companies now offer employees the option to tele-commute from home on days when they’re unable to come to work.
2. Look into workplace wellness programs
On-site gyms, massage therapists, and ergonomic specialists are becoming more and more common. Each wellness program is different. Some companies might provide employees with gym memberships, while others may have vending machines stocked with healthy snacks. If your workplace doesn’t have a wellness program, consider bringing it up in the next meeting, along with a few realistic suggestions. For example, don’t suggest that your small, three-employee company should build an on-site gym; instead suggest something like a company team in a local charity walk.
For office workers, this means making sure you have an ergonomic desk setup. Your monitor should be at eye-level. Both your knees and elbows should be at a comfortable 90 degree angle. Your feet should rest flat on the floor. If in doubt, bring this up to your boss; many companies have someone available to help you make sure your desk is set up as ergonomically as possible.
For people who work in a more physical job, this means being careful of how you move your body – particularly during repetitive actions or while lifting heavy objects. Avoid awkward or twisting movements. When lifting objects, try to use the legs and stomach muscles, instead of depending on your back to do all the work. Make sure your back is straight when you lift things.
4. Adjust your schedule
You know your body better than anyone else. Is your pain worse in the morning? Does rushing around make you hurt worse? Pay attention to when your pain is worst. If possible, alter your work schedule accordingly. For example, if hurrying makes you hurt, get up a little earlier in the morning, or start your workday a little later. If mornings are your worst time of day, ask if you can switch to a different shift.
5. Take advantage of your breaks
Don’t spend your breaks sitting at your desk, messing with your phone. Do something that will make you smile or make you feel rejuvenated. Go outside for a few minutes. Read a book. Put your earbuds in, turn on some happy music, and dance in the break room. This list of self-care ideas has a some great ideas to make the best of your break, like cloud-watching, deep breathing exercises, or planning a future vacation.
Some companies are even incorporating unique breakrooms to help their employees stay at their best. Nap rooms, yoga spaces, and games have all been incorporated into some successful companies.
6. Keep moving
Sitting for long periods without moving has been linked to several different health conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes. Staying immobile is also not a good thing for people with chronic pain. Try to stand up and stretch for a couple minutes every hour, or take a quick walk around the office. Instead of emailing your coworker a question, walk to his or her desk and ask in person. Consider walking or biking to work. If that’s not an option, park at the far end of the parking lot, or ride the elevator to the floor below your destination and take the stairs the rest of the way up.
7. Watch your stress levels
Being stressed out for long periods isn’t good for you. Chronic stress can put you at risk for issues like depression, weight gain, digestive issues, and trouble sleeping. Stress can also worsen your chronic pain.
To combat chronic stress at work, pay attention to what’s getting you worked up. You might even find a list helpful. Then find ways to combat each stressor, if you can. Even if you can’t find a way to eliminate a particular source of stress, simply recognizing it might help you deal with it better. Also, both exercise and self-care are excellent ways to combat the effects of chronic stress. If you find yourself particularly tense, go for a quick walk, or find a quiet spot to do a little reading or meditation.
8. Pack a bag
Knowing that you’re prepared for a potential pain flare can really help with stress levels. Make sure you’ve got water and any medications you might need, plus a healthy lunch so you don’t have to brave the cafeteria food, but don’t stop there. A few other items you might find helpful include:
- A comfy outfit (but let your boss know why you’re wearing sweats at work)
- A heating pad or ice pack
- A comfort food that won’t spoil, like chocolate (as long as it won’t worsen your pain)
- Something bland to nibble on, like crackers, in case you need something to eat with pills
9. Make workplace suggestions
Teachers often encourage their students to voice questions by pointing out that if they have a question, odds are someone else is wondering the same thing. The same can be true for your workplace. If the flickering fluorescents in the break room bother you, they probably bother other people, too. If a coworker’s floral-scented candle triggers headaches and nausea, politely ask him or her not to use it at work anymore. Request that the cafeteria or vending machines offer a few healthier options. Ask permission for you and your coworkers to spruce up an outdoor space with benches, flowers, shrubs, or a tree, or recruit a few colleagues to help you spend a weekend beautifying the breakroom.
Approach your boss respectfully and tactfully with workplace suggestions, and be realistic. If you need specific accommodations because of a disability, consider following this example format to write a request letter. Know what accommodations you’re entitle to under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you’re being denied a reasonable accommodation, do your research and, if warranted, file a charge.
10. Follow healthy habits 24/7
Your chronic pain at work can be affected by what you do in your off time, just as a rough day at work can impact your time off. To support a holistic pain management plan, make sure that you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Incorporate self-care habits, like meditation, into your daily routine. See your doctor regularly and keep up with your prescriptions, plus any prescribed physical or alternative therapies.
How do you manage your chronic pain at work?
Image by Bill Abbott via Flickr