Powering Through: Tips for Managing Pain at Work

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Pain doesn’t go away when you go to work. Most people who suffer from musculoskeletal pain from a sports injury, mishap or chronic pain condition can’t afford to miss much work in search of relief. Yet, it’s difficult to be productive when you are dealing with pain symptoms, not to mention staying sharp and focused if you’re using prescription drug medicine to manage the pain. According to WebMD…

“…it’s estimated that 13 percent of the total workforce had a loss in productive time during a two-week period due to a common pain condition, according to the American Chronic Pain Association. Pain costs an annual $294 billion in lost workdays, medical expenses, and other benefit costs.”

In our first post of this three-part series we introduced the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapies in recovering from activity-induced injuries. In our second installment we provided tips for preventing those injuries in the first place. In this final post of the series, we offer up recommendations for managing pain at work.

TENS therapies can be combined with a number of ergonomic and pain-relief exercises to make workplace activity at least more manageable. Advances in electronics and wireless communications have led to a new generation of medically approved, FDA-cleared TENS units that are compact, inconspicuous and very easy to use in the workplace with simple mobile apps, like the BewellConnect MyTens.

These next-gen TENS units are wearable medical devices that disrupt the pain cycle by delivering a non-painful electrostimulation to tissue around the pain site, blocking pain signals as they travel to the brain. Some devices combine TENS functionality with electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) functionality to help strengthen the muscles as well. With MyTens, users can choose from 19 pre-set programs to target specific pain-relief and recovery needs.

While TENS devices do the heavy lifting in delivering temporary pain relief at work, users can integrate the therapy with other regimens to achieve longer lasting effects.

Correct your posture – Jobs that are sedentary in nature, like working at a desk for 8 hours, inevitably lead to poor posture that can exacerbate pain. If possible, utilize tools like ergonomic chairs, exercise balls or standing desks that help the body avoid slouching, muscle stress and maintain proper spinal alignment.

Stretch and move often – If your pain level permits, light stretching, walking and gentle exercise movements like simple twisting in your chair can help avoid muscle and joint stiffness that triggers pain when disturbed. Movement and exercise can also boost chronic pain relief by releasing the body’s natural pain-fighting endorphins. Try to take stretch breaks every 15 minutes, if the job permits.

Leverage heat and ice – Heat applied through a heating pad, compresses or heating ointments can soothe stiff joints and relax muscles. Cold applied through ice packs or other cold therapies reduces inflammation along with its accompanying pain.

Breathe (mindfully) – Deep breathing and mindfulness meditation techniques can help alleviate pain by reducing stress, slowing the heart rate, relaxing the muscles, and, most importantly, psychologically training the brain to mitigate pain levels. There are an abundance of breathing and mindfulness apps now available for smart phones to guide users through the therapy.

Reduce stress – While it may be impossible to completely avoid stress in the workplace, take steps to reduce it both in and away from work. Stress and anxiety can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. Listening to music, guided imagery, and the aforementioned mindful breathing are all great techniques for mental stress management that can reduce pain by creating states of peacefulness and relaxation. 

Sleep – A well-rested body is another way to reduce stress and fatigue that can aggravate pain. But a good night’s sleep can be challenging to achieve when your body is hurting. Ask your doctor if judicious use of a sleep medication might be warranted, but be careful about how the lingering after-affects that might keep you drowsy and impact your work ability (which, in turn, can inflame your stress levels). Also avoid alcohol, which only makes sleep problems worse.  

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