6 Tips For Working With Chronic Back Pain

Tips for working with chronic back pain

Almost everyone experiences back pain from time to time… but what about those of us that live with degenerative disc disease, sciatica, nerve pain issues etc?! It can be extremely difficult to focus through any type of chronic pain, and working with chronic back pain can be near impossible at times. I’ve been living and working with chronic back pain since a car accident in 2013, so I’m sharing a few of my best tips.

Listen to Your Body

No pain, no gain? Nope, that doesn’t apply to me anymore! I’ve learned the hard way that pushing through the pain isn’t a smart choice for me most of the time. While I try not to focus on my pain, I cannot ignore what my body is trying to tell me. Keeping a journal or notebook can help you to understand what triggers cause your pain to flare up. What were you doing the day BEFORE a sciatica flare? Have you been sitting in a new position? Sleeping differently? Writing down your day to day activities can help you to spot triggers (especially if the pain is a newer issue), and to avoid them in the future. 

Move frequently. I’m not suggesting you walk 10 miles on your break, but rather take more frequent breaks to gently move your body. If you’re lucky enough to work from home, this will likely be easier than if you work in an office. Hopefully, your employer will understand that frequent breaks will help to keep your back from seizing up! I’ve found that I shouldn’t sit for more than an hour, which is why I make it a point to get up, stretch, and walk around my house a bit. Take a call while standing up, walking slowly, or doing some exercises that you learned at physical therapy.

Take frequent breaks to manage your pain levels while working. Take a call while standing up, walking slowly, or doing some exercises that you learned at physical therapy.

Make Your Environment as Comfortable as Possible

Create a work environment that works for you! If you’re lucky enough to be self employed or work from home, this is certainly easier. You’ll often find me working on my laptop on my recliner, with my favorite supportive pillows and a heating pad. Investing in a supportive chair and furniture can also be a huge help. A large therapy ball is also a great affordable tool to switch out with your desk chair occasionally. Having good lighting so you don’t need to lean forward or squint at your screen (effecting your posture) is also extremely helpful! 

Working with chronic back pain tips: make your environment as comfortable as possible and keep items for stretching nearby.

Life is hard enough as it is, try to make things easier on yourself! I always have heating pads, ice packs, a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, a yoga mat, and my various favorite comfort items nearby. If I put them in a closet or a hard to reach area then I am not as likely to use them. Yes, my husband used to find it annoying, but he’s gotten used to me working from home and all of the things that I need to make it possible! Also, I strive to keep my desk and office area free of unnecessary clutter and paperwork. As much as I love cute knick knacks, they only make for more work for cleaning your space.

Mindset Matters

Adjust your expectations. Note: I said adjust, not lower (my therapist tells me that our words have an impact on our mental health, and lowering our expectations sure sounds depressing). If you’re able to set your own schedule and goals, make them manageable for what YOU want to accomplish. It’s easier said then done, but try to stay in our own lane! If you have quotas, clients, or deadlines to meet that are set by others, be open and honest with them about your capabilities. Let your employer know that sometimes your pain flares and it is beyond your control. I’ve had to share my health issues with my clients and most are far more understanding than I had feared they would be. Plus, I work hard to set realistic expectations for not only my clients, but for myself. 

Prioritize ruthlessly. Can I write three blog posts in one day? Nope, probably not. Can I prioritize work that has to be completed today first, leaving emails and following up to messages for later? Yes. Not only do I prioritize my to-do list every day, I also prioritize my self-care. Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and other medical treatments help keep my chronic pain at a ‘manageable’ level. They’re also expensive and sometimes exhausting. Personally, I am lucky enough to be able to work my schedule around the appointments that I need to prioritize. I also have learned to adjust my spending to accommodate these expenses as well. Would I like to go out to dinner more often or drive a newer car? Yes, but those things won’t improve my quality of life as much as my self-care expenses do.

Prioritize your to do list to ensure you can accomplish your most important work first. Don't forget to prioritize your self care as well when living with chronic pain.

Most importantly, try to treat yourself with kindness and give yourself the grace you’d give your friends. We cannot be superman or superwoman, because they are fictional characters. No one can do it all, and that is okay!

Jenna Green is the creator Full of Grit & Grace, a blog and community for people who cannot work a traditional 9-5 job. She’s an outspoken spoonie with Multiple Sclerosis, Dystonia, Degenerative Disc disease, chronic pain, and a whole lot of grit. She strives to help others (and herself) to learn to give themselves grace while going through tough times. She’s a dog mom, auntie extradonaire, fashion lover, and (mostly) optimist.

Pain Awareness Month: Why Does It Matter?

Learn about chronic pain during Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.

When the editors at The Unchargeables asked for someone to do an article on pain for Pain Awareness Month, which is recognized during the month of September, I jumped at the chance. Pain is something I am a living expert on and I thought I’d have no trouble at all writing an article all about it. Then, somewhat ironically, a flare up of my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) set in and the very thing I was supposed to be writing about caused huge writer’s block and left me too exhausted to put fingers to keys.

“Show People What It’s Really Like”

The past three weeks I’ve been so unwell that I’ve barely left the house, which means nothing very exciting has happened. This stumped me because while I wanted the article I wrote on pain to be informative and raise awareness, I had also hoped to keep it relatively positive. In my writing about life with chronic illness, I aim to instill hope and keep a positive focus; so being stuck in bed, not feeling very positive and with not a lot to say, I wondered what on earth I should write about. I spoke to my brother about this frustration and I had to laugh when he responded with, “Rachel, it’s ‘Pain Awareness Month’, not ‘talk crap’ month. Show people what it’s really like”.

Learn about chronic pain during Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.He was right; this month is to raise awareness. Anyone already living with a chronic illness likely knows what living with pain is like. The purpose of this month is to show people who don’t know what it is really like and raise awareness by doing so. The purpose of this month isn’t to say, “Life is hard with pain, but it’s all sunshine and roses really.” That just isn’t true. So, as I write this from bed, with splints on both wrists, dosed up on painkillers, trying not to be infuriated that every position I sit in is so uncomfortable I wish someone would just knock me out, I’m going to share with you what my life can be like behind the doors I normally choose to close.

Trying to Be Positive About Pain

I’m a pretty positive person; I refuse to believe life is bad just because I got ill. I try not to let my illness stop me from being me and doing the things I love with the people I love. You’re more likely to see photos of me on social media out having fun than curled up in bed.

The thing is, I do spend a lot of time unable to do things I love. In fact, I even spend a lot of time unable to do things I don’t love like housework, washing and food shopping. One fun thing, or even one stupid day-to-day task can leave me bed bound. Pain and fatigue go hand in hand and being in pain all the time is absolutely exhausting. When pain takes over I hide from the world, not because I’m ashamed, but because who is interested in seeing or hearing about that? The reality is, people would probably be a lot more understanding if they did see and hear about that side of it. Being super positive all the time is not a bad thing, but when raising awareness, we have to share what living with pain is really like, not some Instagram-filtered version of it.

Imagine Living with Pain Every Single Day

I live with pain every single day. That is hard to comprehend unless you do, too. Before RA I couldn’t ever have imagined what this was like. Take a second and just imagine how your life would be impacted if you were in pain every single day, constantly.

There is no cure. You now have to live with pain all the time and you have to continue to function and live your life. Some days you may have pain levels of two or three out of ten on the pain scale; some days you will have pain that is a ten. Those are the days you will scream, cry and desperately long for something to make it stop.

The other days of moderate pain you must function as usual. Imagine how that would have changed the day you had today? Would you have showered? Would you have applied makeup? Would you have gone to work or called in sick? Would you have cooked tea? Tidied or cleaned the house? Picked the kids up from school? Done the shopping? People living with chronic pain must keep going and have to do all these things. Imagine how exhausting and difficult that would be.

Learn about what chronic pain is like during Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.Now imagine the ten out of ten pain days. How would you feel if you were unable to get dressed or clean your teeth? How would you feel if you couldn’t get out of bed or leave your house? Would you want to eat? Or would you want to curl up and sleep? You’ll be exhausted, but on days like this you will not be able to sleep. You will be in too much pain to stand a chance of sleep; welcome to painsomnia.

Now imagine a few months go by of this daily pain. How tidy and clean is your house? How many sick days have you had? How many social events have you missed? How many times have you eaten takeaway instead of a cooked meal? How many days have you managed to shower or get dressed? How many people have grown frustrated with you? How many friends have stopped calling to check on you? How many times has someone questioned if it’s really that bad or asked if you’re “better” yet? You can’t get better, there is no cure. How do you feel about the future now? How do you feel about facing a life of pain knowing how much it’s already changed your life in a few short months?

The Reality of Living with Pain

This is the reality of living with pain, and it isn’t pretty. The last three weeks I have managed to shower an average of every three days. I used to shower daily. I’ve worn makeup twice. I used to wear it daily. I’ve had to choose between preparing lunch or walking the dog, unable to do both. I’ve had to choose between brushing my teeth or brushing my hair, between changing the bed or changing my pyjamas. I’ve had to sit down to shower, I’ve had to lie down on the sofa after simply walking down the stairs, I’ve had to take a nap between getting dressed and getting a coffee.

Learn about chronic pain during Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.The two days I managed to get dressed and apply makeup, to anyone else I looked perfectly normal. This is part of the problem, and this is why awareness matters. You cannot see pain, but people living with it need your understanding and compassion.

When Pain Causes Judgement

I recently went shopping with a good friend, who pushed me in my wheelchair because getting ready to go out had left me too exhausted and in pain to walk. While waiting for her to arrive at the shops a man walked past my car, parked in a disabled spot and glared at me. He literally glared at me the entire time he walked around my car. It was obvious he wasn’t sure I should be in that spot, even with my badge on display…and a wheelchair in the boot.

Makeup hides a lot, but it didn’t hide the tears that came from his judgement. Every day people living with pain encounter judgement and discrimination and that isn’t okay. You cannot see if someone has a disability or chronic illness by simply looking at them; they aren’t always visible. A comment of judgement, or even frustration, from someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to live with chronic pain can do so much damage. We need to be a little kinder to each other and show compassion.

Adapt and Try to Be Positive

The thing about pain is that you can manage it, but even with the best medicine, treatments and therapies in the world, there isn’t a cure for most chronic illnesses or the pain that accompanies them. You learn to adapt and live with it, and you don’t let it stop you living the best life you possibly can, but it does change your life. I refuse to be beaten by it and I refuse to dwell in the darkness that clouds me on the worst days. I have moments where I’m overtaken by negative thoughts and a sense of hopelessness, but I have learned how to pull myself out of that. I remain positive and focus on the good in each day, even if the good is that I simply survived that day.

However, being positive doesn’t mean reality should be hidden and to raise awareness we have to get real. You can share the reality of pain without letting a negative attitude consume you. I encourage you to speak to people about what it’s like to live with pain, and be real with them, whilst also keeping a positive attitude. Hopefully it will start some really important conversations and make for a future where people are a little kinder to each other.

Reach Out

Learn about chronic pain during Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.If you know someone who lives with pain, I encourage you to ask them about it; you may open a door for them to be honest with someone for the first time. Sharing helps, and it certainly alleviates the loneliness that can often come with a chronic illness.

If you are living with pain, then please know you are an absolute warrior, a champion and you are so much stronger than you realise. Don’t be afraid to share your story and don’t be afraid to admit when things are rough. You deserve support, love and compassion. I know some days it can feel hopeless, and I know some days it can feel like you’ve lost everything, but please know you aren’t alone and everything you are is more than enough. If anyone tells you otherwise, it is their issue, not yours. Keep going, keep fighting and keep shining a light during Pain Awareness Month, and beyond.

About the Author:

Rachel writes about Pain Awareness Month at The Unchargeables.Rachel is a 29-year-old Chronic Illness blogger at whatapain.co.uk, living in the North of England. She was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2015. Passionate about challenging stereotypes and disability discrimination, she is married to an awesome bearded bloke and owner of a super weird rescue dog called Blue.