How to Deal with Pain at Work

By Steve Tobak

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 importantly, 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:

5 Ways to Manage Pain at Work

  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: at home, reclining in a LazyBoy 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 it 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 says, "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.

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

And, 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.

BNET Blogger Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He is also the managing partner of Invisor Consulting.

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