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.
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!
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.
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.
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.