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5 tips for coping with chronic pain at work

Reviewed by 
Yoni Ashar, Ph.D
May 14, 2021
4
 min read

Some people wake up every morning excited and motivated to get to work, brimming with new ideas that they’ve conjured up overnight. And then there’s the rest of us. Trudging along, hitting the snooze button three times before we manage to roll out of bed, and guzzling coffee to kick start both our day and our ambition. Our backs ache. Our joints and migraines pursue us daily.

Dealing with chronic pain impacts us both personally and professionally. It puts a serious damper on our days. We want to be like those other people, moving through our workday blissfully, energetically, and pain-free. But going to work with chronic pain is not simple - so can this be a reality for us too? Read on for five tips that can help you cope with your chronic pain while at work and approach your professional lives with enthusiasm and gusto.

Be your own advocate

To start, remember that you need to speak up. While there’s absolutely no need to play the victim role, recognize that not everyone around you knows or understands how you feel. Chronic pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, fibromyalgia, and nerve damage, to name a few, generally aren’t visible or apparent to others (1). As a result, you – and only you – can truly advocate for yourself when you’re at work. So talk to HR (or your manager/boss or colleagues) about adjusting your workspace to boost your productivity and lessen your pain. An ergonomic computer set-up or stand-up desk, for example, might reduce your back pain. And friendly coworkers will likely be more than willing to pick up heavy items for you if you ask. And remember – there are millions of other people suffering from chronic pain, so you are not alone.

Accept Yourself

Sometimes our chronic pain struggles translate into limitations. Maybe it’s just not feasible for you to hold down the type of job that requires you to be on your feet constantly or to do a lot of lifting. Don’t judge yourself negatively or harshly for having been dealt a hand that includes the presence of pain on a daily basis. Instead, forgive yourself, if necessary, and accept that while a lot is in your control, not everything is. Make changes in your work life that help you be more physically comfortable. And be kind to yourself mentally. Beating yourself up every day won’t change or improve anything at all.

Prioritize Your Well-Being

There are going to be times at work when you feel pressured to participate in certain activities that may not be conducive to people with chronic pain. Some startups, for instance, encourage their employees to attend active social events like rock climbing and paintball shooting for team building purposes. Others hold a lot of happy hours so team members can socialize and get to know each other. If these kinds of activities will infringe on your ability to manage your pain, prioritize yourself and say no (preferably in a polite manner). Be honest if you want to be; most people will be very understanding once they understand your reasons. 
And, sometimes pushing your boundaries a bit can be rewarding. It can help you make new friends and challenge your body despite the pain. If an activity interests you, consider checking with your doctor and participating if they approve and you feel comfortable. You may be pleasantly surprised by how the experience goes!

Establish Healthy Behaviors

It’s key to build healthy habits (2) both inside and outside of work. Doing so may help lessen or stop your chronic pain, so don’t let this fall by the wayside. Make sure to eat a variety of nutritious foods and get plenty of exercise (any kind that works for you!). Watch your alcohol intake, choose not to smoke, and take your pain medications as directed by your doctor. Also, take steps to safeguard your mental health through methods like meditation and journaling. Establish these kinds of habits and you’ll undoubtedly reap the benefits.

Consider All of Your Pain Management Options

Consult with your doctor to ensure you’re doing everything you can to properly manage your chronic pain. In addition, consider the other options that are out there – acupuncture, massage, occupational therapy, online support groups, and remote health platforms. Lin, for instance, can pair you with a personal health coach who will develop and implement a tailored care plan for you to help tone down your pain and start and maintain the healthy habits we discussed above. Investigate your options; before long, maybe you’ll be the person who gets out of bed every morning pumped up to start your day and get to work.