Managing chronic pain during the workday

Tips and tricks for managing chronic pain in the workplace.

Woman sitting at a desk holding her head in pain.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels.

According to National Health Interview Survey data, an estimated 20.4% of adults report having chronic pain that frequently limits life or work activities. Chronic pain is ongoing pain that usually lasts more than six months. As you can imagine, living with this type of pain can affect day-to-day tasks, including work productivity. Not only does the individual have to manage the physical pain while working, but they also may experience fatigue or lack of energy, irritability (or other mood changes), or other side effects as a result of underlying health conditions.

We cannot see pain. Because we cannot see it or measure how much pain someone is experiencing, it can be challenging to understand how it may affect one’s life. Chronic pain is a complex condition, so becoming a self-manager of your pain can be one way to improve one’s overall quality of life. Becoming an advocate for yourself is the first step in becoming a better self-manager.

Managing pain is possible in the workplace but requires individuals to take a proactive approach to their pain. Below are steps you can take to manage your chronic pain during the workday. Health recommendations should always come from your physician, so please consult with them first before implementing the following steps:

  • Take regular breaks.
  • Upgrade your workspace. Add more ergonomic furniture that helps support good posture. Ergonomic furniture is designed to fit the human body and its movement better. Examples of this could be a standing desk or a computer chair that supports proper posture.
  • Have a standing meeting or consider a standing desk.
  • Incorporate stretching throughout the day.
  • Set boundaries. Be aware of your limitations and say no when you need to.
  • Be flexible. Your workspace may look different depending on the level of pain for that day.

Speak to your supervisor or human resource department about accommodations to minimize your pain and maximize your productivity. By following certain strategies and being a good pain self-manager, you can be more productive and experience less pain during the workday. For many, the pain is always there, so it is vital to listen to your body and rest when needed.

To learn additional strategies for managing chronic pain, such as problem-solving and developing an exercise and stretching plan, consider participating in Michigan State University Extension’s six-week online Chronic Pain Personal Action Towards Health (PATH) program. Participants learn valuable self-management tools and skills with support from peers living with chronic pain, such as communication with healthcare providers and family, healthy eating, and managing difficult emotions.

MSU Extension also offers a variety of programs to learn more about managing chronic pain and staying active:

To find the right program for you, visit the MSU Extension’s events calendar or contact your local Extension office.

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