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Five tips for managing pain at work

It's not something people really talk about, but a lot of your co-workers are toughing out some serious pain -- and maybe you are, too.

Tens of millions of Americans live and work in chronic pain. What's more, it's rarely discussed as a workplace or business topic ... until now.

You see, I know a little about pain. Some people call me a pain, but that's beside the point. I also have pain. Some of it comes from thinking and acting like I'm still a kid, but most of it came with the body, more or less.

What kind of pain? Well, my joints aren't so good and I've had some surgery on them. I've also got a herniated disk that generates referred pain down my left side and the sciatic nerve. Last but not least are migraines. I don't get them as bad as some people do, but sometimes, they can last for weeks. I'm not trying to get sympathy -- just letting you know that I've got skin in the game and some cred here.

In any case, I've learned to live -- and work -- with pain. More important, I'm not alone. Not even close. According to the National Pain Foundation, more than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and two-thirds of them have been living with their pain for more than five years.

According to a 2006 survey conducted by Harris Interactive called Pain in the Workplace, the vast majority (89%) of employees with chronic pain go to work rather than stay home. And nearly half of them say it affects their ability to do their job. This is for all those people.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Make yourself comfortable

When I'm in pain, I want to be comfortable. And I'm not the slightest bit comfortable getting dressed up and fighting rush-hour traffic to sit in a stark cubicle all day. I'm comfortable doing exactly what I'm doing right now: staying at home, reclining in a LazyBoy, and wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and Vans. I can get up and stretch and ice body parts in ways that would almost certainly distract coworkers and might result in a lawsuit.

2: Don't mention it

Seriously, unless you're negotiating for telecommute time, medical benefits, or something important like that, don't even mention your pain to coworkers, your boss, or anyone you work with. Why? Like it or not, it will reflect badly on you. I know, I know, that sounds sad, stupid, sick, and Neanderthal, but it's also true. Some will think you're using it to your advantage by garnering sympathy to get special treatment. Others will judge you inferior and not worthy of added responsibility and promotion. In any case, no good can come of it, so keep it to yourself.

3: Take drugs

If you have an aversion to drugs or you're one of those people who say, "I hate taking drugs" or "I don't like to put things in my body," well, that's your right. But then, I've got the right to call you an idiot for suffering when you could be taking advantage of the best of what modern medicine has to offer. I say if it works, then do it, take it, swallow it, ice it, whatever. And no, I'm not saying you should drive under the influence or break the law, okay? Just so we're clear.

4: Meditate

I haven't personally gone this route, but studies suggest that a meditative technique called mindfulness does help people cope with and manage pain. But you'll need quiet so it helps if you're at home.

5: Take care of yourself

Not to get all fluffy on you here, but it's true: If you exercise, eat healthy foods, get some sleep, and don't forget to have fun from time to time, you'll be happier and better equipped to manage pain. Otherwise, living in chronic pain can lead to depression, which can make matters far worse. It also helps if you love the work you do, but that goes without saying.

In case you're interested, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has tons of statistics that slice and dice the pain thing just about every which way you can think of.

Other tips?

Since this is topical -- we are, after all, an aging population -- but rarely discussed, I invite you to share your stories and tips. You can help thousands of people here, so I hope you do.

26 comments
colonel.jack.o.neill
colonel.jack.o.neill

Must be mainland europe then because it is not been heard of in the UK................sorry !

colonel.jack.o.neill
colonel.jack.o.neill

sounds like what we call in the UK a T.E.N.S. machine.Got one.Had to turn it up so high to work it burned me and left physical marks.Thanks but no thanks!

wlmcgrann
wlmcgrann

I am in chronic medium to severe pain. I enjoy the relief I get from taking RX pain medication. However, I do not like the buzzed feeling. I need every brain cell I have just to survive, It would be great someday if Science could come up with pain medication that did not affect how well our brain(s) think.

info
info

"Pain is inevitable...Suffering, optional."

delma.babcock
delma.babcock

you can make bags filled with rice that can be either microwaved for moist heat or placed in sealed plastic bag in the freezer for gentle cold. They are a huge help and cheap to make. If you do not sew take a tube sock fill with rice and tie a knot!

linda.wilkins
linda.wilkins

How do others handle needing to take time off for sproradic chronic pain? I am on Family Medical Leave, but it always feels awkward to say "I need to leave to get treatment for this migraine" which alse leaves me feeling hung-over and unproductive the next day. I have pain at some level 80% of the time. Mostly I can deal with it taking OTC medication or prescriptions that don't make me drowsy, but when the major ones hit, I can't function due to the pain and nausea. It seems there is a stigma surrounding migraines as "just a headache" - everyone gets headaches. Any tips, suggestions, comments from others would be appreciated.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

Chronic pain should be taken seriously. It can literally drive people crazy. It can also get people addicted to things that are bad for them. So I don't recommend taking drugs. A lot more is known about how chronic pain comes about, and how to relieve it, than most doctors would be able to tell you. This fact is hinted at in the "meditate" recommendation. Most of us would say, "What could meditation possibly have to do with chronic pain?" That shows how far behind most of us are on this subject. Chronic pain is chronic because it's being held in place. If you can eliminate the reasons you are holding on to the pain, it will reduce or leave. I'm not saying this is simple. I'm just saying it is possible. There are "traditional" practices like meditation that can help with this, and also "modern" practices. The drug companies and their friends don't want you to know about these. Pain is also a social control factor. Sorry to get political, but that's the way it is. So: Don't think there's nothing that can be done. Of course you can dull it out with "modern pain relievers." But that won't address the beyond-body reasons why you hurt. Those reasons CAN also be addressed.

colonel.jack.o.neill
colonel.jack.o.neill

I have my beliefs,though they are personal.But they are not a crutch mental or otherwise and if you read my first post "I find I cannot work because the constant pain is a distraction and means I cannot concentrate".But thank you for your comments/input. Sincerely Raven

ma_roberts
ma_roberts

SPOT ON. I've made the mistake of mentioning my various issues around the water cooler and it DOES make you look weak so that was a BIG mistake. Drugs, SPOT ON. Unless it makes you sit there and blow bubbles in your Red Bull, you are foolish not to take advantage. I cannot remember ONCE, where there passed out rewards or bonuses because I "sucked it up"!!

electrons24
electrons24

I???m pretty sure what I???m about to say will not be well received. I had to live with a constant headache for about a year and a half before one night as I lay in bed trying to avoid the fact that my head felt like it was about to explode I willed the pain out of my body in gods name. Repeatedly I willed it out for about 5 minutes. I am not a perfect Christian and don???t go to Church but I try and live my life as Jesus lived his. Its been 4 months now and the headache has not returned. If you have cronic pain - inspect your live, is it in line with Gods ways? Nobody is perfect but for those who try....

colonel.jack.o.neill
colonel.jack.o.neill

I am on 22 painkilling tablets a day! sometimes they work ,sometimes not.I live in pain at least 98% of the time and when it is bad I cannot move.I don't look for sympathy,i am making a point.I find I cannot work because the constant pain is a distraction and means I cannot concentrate.On a "bad" day I can barely move and I will not go into details about those days.You talk about working with pain,I would LOVE to be able to work......but find myself in a position of I cannot even work from home over the net because I can't sit at the computer long enough.But good luck to those who can and do work through it.My respect to you all. Sincerely Raven

mpukey
mpukey

Part of staying comfortable is to make sure you respect ergonomics. Have a decent chair, shift your mouse and keyboard often, take short breaks away from your desk, stretch, etc.... Too many of us get in the zone and just don't move enough.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

As that leads down a slippery slope towards putting one's employer into the path of an ADA complaint. Why is chronic pain any different than being unable to walk assuming it affects your ability to do your job (50% according to the poll, yes?) Otherwise I agree with your general opinion that communicating one's ills comes across like whining assuming it doesn't impact your job (the other 50%). Which is rather sad...

galach
galach

What kind of stupid post is this? So, you are sick, suffering pain, and must you give even more blood for the company, in expense of your health? Well, I am not American, but if the "american way of life" is to addict yourself to endure sickeness and pain for an abstract possibility of not appear to be "weak" to coworkers or to embrace yourself in a distant possibility of promotion, giving a real one of herat attack, I say this way of life is a real crap.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Meaning, no two pains are alike. Different pains respond to different treatments. For pain in the body, I find that letting, or rather making myself really feel the pain, makes it more bearable. The more I try to avoid feeling the pain, the louder the signal gets. But if the signal is openly received, it's sort of resolved, just a keepalive drone remains.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

but taking drugs can hinder your ability to meditate or put you to sleep when you try. If you can endure the pain then I think meditation can help you simply get used to the pain. Eventually you may not need medication anymore. If the pain is really intense then you will have trouble meditating and should take drugs but you owe it to yourself to try to handle things on your own. It sucks to think that you will have to be drugged up for extended periods of time.

wlmcgrann
wlmcgrann

It is not a tens unit. They do both use a small electrical current to treat you, but, in very different ways. I have heard the SCENAR is very popular over in Europe. I am surprised you have not heard of them.

GSG
GSG

Have you tried going to a headache clinic? Many people who suffer with true migraines can learn to manage the symptoms, or even prevent them. A friend who had been diagnosed with migraines found out they weren't migraines at all, but were due to other issues. Hers were resolved with several months of Botox in her neck.

wlmcgrann
wlmcgrann

I recently purchased a Denas - Scenar electrical stimulator. My new brother-in-law who is a Homeopathic doctor recommended it to me because I have failed shoulder surgery syndrome and a lot of pain. This "Scenar" works very well on pain and has FDA approval for pain management. After reading about how it helps with headaches, I purchase an scalp attachment, which is basicaly a stainless steel brush so contact can be made to the skin thru your hair. I was amazes at how well it works on headaches. My other brother in-law suffers severe migraines too. So I let him try it and he said it worked great too. The catch would be the price. To get a good scenar with the proper attachment to treat migraines would cost between $500.00 to $600.00 dollars. But it does work! If you like I can connect you with dealer who offers an 30 day no questions asked return policy. wlmcgrann@yahoo.com

jennifer1019
jennifer1019

Whatever will you do if you find out that you are wrong?

colonel.jack.o.neill
colonel.jack.o.neill

I live with chronic pain,every day!If you suffer it then you know 1)the drugs help a bit and 2) you can't concentrate enough to "meditate".I am still looking for answers but i can tell you this.....without the drugs every day I am unable to walk or even crawl!Admittedly some ( a few ) days even with the drugs I am like that.No-one here has answers or even helpful suggestions......pity!!!

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

I strongly believe that mental attitude is the make-or-break factor in life. In the army we had a drill sergeant who in the middle of winter would still be wearing short sleeves and no jacket. He said that cold was a state of mind. You used mind-power to beat your pain, by focusing on religion. That's fine with me. I'm an atheist but don't force my beliefs on anyone. Nor did you. You merely shared a tip with the possibility to change our life experience.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Some people have to live with pain. Because there's no alternative. That means having to try and make the best of life, in spite of pain. Also working, and also having a career one is happy with. Not letting oneself be controlled by the pain, and not letting the pain control how one is seen by others.

GSG
GSG

I had physical therapy for mine. I had a shoulder issue that required surgery and had issues left over from a whiplash injury on the same side. I got an amazing therapist that said that my body was trained to feel pain, so that's what it felt. He set up a regimen of exercises that took me almost to the point of pain. By doing that, we retrained my brain to say, "Hey, moving that does not cause pain", so I went from constant excruciating pain, to occasional pain that I can usually exercise out. I do occasionally have severe pain in the area, but with exercise, ice and/or heat, and some mild drugs, I can get it worked out rather quickly. I've been able to use these techniques for what used to be chronic headaches, and other minor aches and pains. Also, now that I'm getting more exercise, implementing dietary changes, etc... my osteoarthritis in my injured joints does not flare as often or as severely.

galaxie4942
galaxie4942

I haven't heard this for a long time. I had pain in back for...since high school.(58yrs old now) People would tell me I'm an idiot for no surgery or this or that,I handled it like you mentioned. Work,exercise,play,Go to my limit and continue there or lower depending on the day or job. I also found that relaxing on carpet or foam pad with a section of news paper rolled up under my back really relieved the muscles. So,Like you said accepting it seemed to maintain its tolerant level through the years. Just wanted to let you know i read this and agree. Different pain levels for different people. Thanks, glenn

jennifer1019
jennifer1019

I have had bouts of chronic pain that lasted only a few hours. I know how devastating and tiring it can be. Inflammation is the enemy of the body. Drugs ease the inflammation letting the body do it's job and heal. Too many folks say, "Don't take drugs." I believe that there is better living through chemistry and that god created pharmacists as surely as s/he created farmers. Meditation is great when it works. Drugs are great when they work. It is up to each of us to figure out what works for ourselves. I often ask myself what makes my heart beat and the answer for me is never aerobics. My answers come through music and art. To each her'his own. My suggestion is to never give up on that pursuit of happiness. Gordon Livingston tells us that happiness has three compenents: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. If you have those three bases covered, then you are happy with pain or without it.