Most of us will suffer from Chronic Pain at some stage in our lifetime, here we discuss how to manage your pain in the workplace.

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain is classed of ‘Chronic’ when its symptoms last longer than three months, and its severity can vary. The pain can be continuous or sporadic, even with the aid of medication or treatment. Chronic pain can be caused by other conditions such as diabetes or arthritis; however, it is often categorised as an illness in its own right. It has been proven to be more likely to develop in people experiencing times of stress or pressure and can often lead to feelings of anxiety or frustration.

Everyone can experience chronic pain differently. Some common symptoms include pain described as:

  • Aching
  • Shooting
  • Numbness
  • Throbbing
  • Stiffness
  • Soreness
  • Stinging

Chronic pain can interfere with your everyday life, and if not appropriately managed it may affect your mental health, leaving you feeling angry or depressed. It is vital to get advice from a doctor or healthcare professional who will be able to advise what pain management methods you can use.

Pain Management tips for the workplace

Chronic pain affects an estimated 20% of people worldwide, and working with chronic pain can be extremely challenging. In fact, 5 of the top 12 disabling conditions globally are persistent chronic pain conditions such as low back and neck pain, migraines, and arthritis. There are several effective coping methods you can utilise in the workplace, including:

  • Prioritise your health. Learn to say no when asked to perform jobs or tasks that cause symptoms of pain. Be sure not to push yourself in ways that can adversely affect your pain management routine.
  • Take breaks. Regular breaks can be used as a way of bringing your pain down, mainly if it is joint or back-related. Be sure to get up and stretch as often as you can, and short bouts of exercise or a short walk can help relieve pain symptoms. Some may even find it beneficial to take a few minutes away from their working environment to meditate or recover in a quiet place.
  • Speak out. Talk to your employer about your experience with pain management, they may be able to make suitable adjustments to support you and help maintain your productivity in the workplace. Talking to other colleagues may help you discover new methods of managing pain.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Either in work or outside work, you can support yourself by eating well and ensuring you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Online forums and message boards can also provide a platform to talk about your experiences. More importantly, alway stay within the prescribed limits of your medication.
  • Make changes to your workspace. Consider ways you can make your areas of work more comfortable, and request support from your employer or occupational health specialist if necessary. Tools such as ergonomic office chairs, footrests, telephone headsets and armrests can help improve your quality of life whilst at work.

Whilst there is support for those unable to keep working, staying at or returning to work can contribute to a successful pain management strategy. Those suffering from pain management can be more productive and experience less pain at work by benefiting from being around other people on the job.

Advice for employers

There are several ways you can support staff who experience chronic pain:

  1. Take time to speak to the employee to discuss ways they would like to be supported.
  2. Consider offering flexible working hours to the employee to enable them to take better control over their condition. For example, being given the option of starting an hour later may aid someone who experiences pain when getting out of bed and may make all the difference to their working day.
  3. Involve employees and trade unions when developing measures to assist staff with chronic pain. Obtaining advice from an occupational health specialist may also help improve conditions in the workplace.
  4. Encourage the employee to talk to other colleagues about their condition so that they understand how chronic pain affects daily life.