Working eight or more hours a day can be a real pain in the neck–and not just in the way that you’re thinking about it.

According to research presented at, 186 million work days a year are lost to back pain. Overexertion injuries alone cost over $13 billion in workers’ compensation costs. Unfortunately, many people still feel too embarrassed to bring up their pain. Almost nine in ten employees with chronic pain go to work when experiencing chronic pain instead of staying at home. While there are benefits to keeping with the same routine, too much exertion can cause more pain down the line.

When it comes to managing pain at work, you should always listen to your body and be mindful of your expectations. Take steps to reduce causes of pain and be proactive about asking for help.

1. Practice proper lifting techniques

If you’re in a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting, you’ve likely already been trained in proper lifting techniques. Many of us, however, do some daily lifting that wasn’t mentioned in the job description. Take care of your back early by always practicing a safe technique for lifting, whether it’s a heavy load or a box of printer paper. The Mayo Clinic provides a quick tutorial that shows proper lifting techniques from a squatting or kneeling position.

2. Use an ergonomic set-up at your desk 

Ergonomics–the science of equipment design for the workplace–focuses on the safest and most efficient ways to design work stations to reduce repetitive strain injuries. If you’re working at a computer, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration suggests to:

  • Keep your monitor at eye level
  • Balance your head and neck directly in line with your torso
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Keep your elbows close to your body and your wrists and hands in line with your forearms
  • Ensure your feet are flat on the floor

3. Take frequent breaks

It’s especially important to take breaks if you’re sitting at a desk for most of the day. Take a small walking break every hour or at least stand and stretch. This will reduce pressure on the spinal discs and boost circulation. If you work at a job that requires a lot of standing or walking, likewise, take sitting breaks throughout the day to rest.

4. Talk to your doctor 

If your pain is chronic and severe, discuss treatment options with your doctor. These may include light physical therapy, medication, chiropractic procedures, or alternative therapies like acupuncture. Be honest and up-front with your doctor about your work requirements and your daily strains. He or she may be able to suggest alternative set-ups or specific accommodations if your pain is related to a greater disability.

5. Ask for accommodations

Finally, make sure and talk to your supervisor or human resources department about options for accommodations. If you have a disability, there are accommodations that workplaces may be required to provide by law, such as foot rests for employees with low back pain. If certain activities cause your pain to flare up, consider discussing alternative work assignments that you can perform to continue helping out your team.

It is possible to manage and prevent some of the pain related to work. The most critical component is to take action early, rather than waiting for the pain to become unbearable.

Image by Victor 1558 via Flickr


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