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.

Chargie Story – How Ashley Made Her Voice Heard


My story starts like many others. Aside from the fact that I was quite young.  At 16, I started having nagging pain in my lower back.  Nothing too serious, but uncomfortable enough for me to notice.  However, I was a hard-headed teen and chose to ignore it instead of bringing it to my parents’ attention.

Fast forward two years.  I had just given birth to my daughter.  While carrying her to her room in her car seat, I went to step over a baby gate and my back seized up, causing me to drop my newborn daughter.  Thankfully she was unhurt. But this caused me to question myself and why I had put off seeking help for so long.

prescription pain meds

With my husband being in the military, we move a lot.  So between the ages of 18 and 25, I went to see multiple (questionable) doctors.   Different doctors meant different diagnoses, different approaches to pain, and different prescriptions.  The first doctor told me that I had a pinched nerve that would, in time, heal itself.  I was sent home with a small selection of pain meds and anti-inflammatories.  Even though I knew it wouldn’t “heal”, I accepted what he had said because I was young and he was the doctor, so I figured he had to be right.

The second doctor barely looked at me.  He just poked a little and said, “Oh, a pulled muscle.  You’re too young for anything more serious.” He prescribed me some more narcotics for pain and sent me on my way.  I couldn’t even take the pain medication because it caused me to be so sleepy that I couldn’t function, and with a newborn, that’s just not something I was willing to chance.

     More time passed and I found myself at yet another clinic seeing another doctor.  She looked me over and said that she wanted me to go see a physical therapist.  WOO HOO!  Something new.   Maybe this meant we were on the right path.


     My physical therapist pushed me so hard that I literally couldn’t move for a week.  I was in so much pain I was bedridden after each visit.  I went back to the doctor after attempting 3 visits with the physical therapist and told her I couldn’t go anymore.  She then proceeded to tell me that she would not prescribe any more medication, as she believed that I had already been given too much.  AKA, she thought I was faking and just wanted narcotics.

I left in tears, thinking this is it, no one believes me.  I wondered if I was going crazy.  Am I too young to actually be hurting this bad?  It must be all in my head.

After returning home, I spoke to my husband.  He settled me down and helped me start thinking straight.  So I made another appointment and took my small pharmacy of narcotics that weren’t missing but one or two pills each from the last four years in with me.  I put them on the counter, and told the doctor, “Take them, I don’t want them.  I just want to know what’s wrong with me.  I will continue to make appointments every day until you do what needs to be done to diagnose me.”

Two weeks later, I was laying on an MRI table.  Shortly after that, I was diagnosed.  I had an answer…finally. The doctor sat me down and informed me that I had 2 herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis in my T12-L1, and L1-L2 vertebrae.  She said at some point, I’d likely be in a wheelchair.  Minimally, I’d need surgery on my back, but they refused to do the surgery at that time because the risk of paralysis was too high for someone my age.  So I was sent off with nothing but medication.  Again.  I was right back where I started, but at least now, I knew what was wrong with me.

disc degeneration

I am now 30.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly started hurting all over.  Hands, feet, legs, even skin.  I feel like any time someone touches me they are taking off layers of skin.  There are days I haven’t been able to wear pants.  Days where the seams on my socks have felt like they are knives cutting into my feet.  I’ve started having multiple migraines a week.

I have also started not leaving the house for weeks at a time unless absolutely necessary.

     I put off going back to a doctor, thinking I would just go through what I had already been through: I would get passed between doctors, they would think I was lying, I would have more drugs pushed at me.  Then my husband stepped in.  He told me I had to go.  He all but put me in the car and buckled me in.  After three more doctors, I have now been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, agoraphobia, depression, chronic migraines, and severe anxiety.

It’s been over a year since my new diagnoses.  We have been playing with medications, doses, and the horrible side effects.  We are still trying to get everything right but at least now I feel like someone is listening.

I feel like I’m not crazy.  I feel like I have a voice and it has finally been heard.




Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

Anatomy of the Disc



spine segment


Spinal discs are the cushions between the bones of the spine, or vertebrae. They make the back flexible and protect the bones to absorb the impact of your body’s movements, much like a shock absorber.

There are two main parts of the disc, resembling a filled donut. The outer layer is the annulus, which contains the nerves. Damage to this outer layer can cause a lot of pain. The inside of the disc is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus. The proteins contained can irritate the tissues they touch and cause inflammation. If the proteins reach the annulus, they can cause much pain. (This is a herniation.) Spinal discs are unable to repair themselves, causing degeneration.

Discs are made of over 80% water. Over time, the discs dry out and shrink. This happens to everyone; however, it may lead to painful conditions such as arthritis, or herniation. Sometimes bone spurs grow and rub on the discs, or the spinal canal becomes too narrow, leading to spinal stenosis. Wear and tear over time, sports and injuries to the spine may also cause painful spinal degeneration.

When the pain of the degenerated discs cause pain that cannot be traced to another condition, it is called Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD).


Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease


disc degeneration


Common symptoms include:

*Pain in the low back, posterior and thighs
*Pain radiating into the arms and hands
*Pain that is nagging, severe or disabling
*Numbness or tingling in the extremities
*Pain that is worse while sitting
*Lessened pain while walking or moving
*Pain that is worse wile bending or lifting
*Pain that lessens while changing positions or laying down
*Pain lasting from a few days to several months
*Weakness in the leg or foot muscles



DDD is diagnosed through physical examination and taking a personal medical history. The physician will test range of motion and muscle strength, as well as reflexes and sensation in the limbs. An MRI can show the disc damage. Physicians will rule out other causes of spinal injury such as arthritis.



Treatment of DDD is stepped up through physical activity, physical therapy exercise, and heat and cold therapy to medications (NSAIDs and pain relievers) and surgery. Other treatments may focus on managing other issues associated with the pain, such as sleeplessness and depression.


physical therapy
Other treatment may include acupuncture, behavioral medicine, braces, chiropractic, electrotherapy, muscle relaxants, nerve blocks and stress management.






Linda’s Letters: Letter #6


Warning: Explicit content


March 23, 2016



Hey you,

Yeah, I mean you! So, the demons have come back to attack you while you’re down. They are offering you oblivion. They are whispering seductive sweet nothing’s about how the only peace you’ll ever find is to no longer exist. They tell you that you are a worthless piece of trash. You have no use to humanity and those you care about would be better off if you were not here. The demons scream inside your head and tear apart your heart. They suck out your will to fight. They fill you with doubt. The demons kill all hope. They laugh at your pleas for mercy. The demons feed off your doubt. Their life’s blood is your apathy and pain.

How do I know what you are feeling? Remember, I am you and you are me. I have been down this road. I have been where you are. I have faced my demons time and time again. I have fallen into the abyss and sunk into the demons embrace. I snuggled up with alcohol and drugs to find sweet oblivion. I have tried to erase my existence. I have pushed everyone away believing them better off. I have wanted to embrace death. Yet, here I stand and here you are.

When was your darkest night? The first was when I was sixteen and wanted to end it all with a gun to my head but I’ve already told you that story. So, why don’t I tell you of my most recent dark night? Just a few nights ago I sat in my living room debating if life was worth living. The demons were crowding around feasting on my heart and soul.
Ok, to give you an idea of why I went to the abyss that night I have to tell you about my day and what has been going on with me. First my health has been in a tailspin. My PTSD and Depression have been giving me fits. I am being evaluated for MS right now. My osteoarthritis in my knees and hip is worsening. My degenerative disc disease and peripheral neuropathy in my legs are fucking killing me. I recently found out I have spondyloarthritis in my lower spine and Oh fucking joy sciatica has joined the party! So here I sit day in and day out on meds that don’t adequately control the pain and off we go to the orthopedic specialist for my knees. I am ready for him to say we need to do more injections or some such horseshit and Bam! He lowers the boom and says not one but both knees need to be scoped. Well, fuck! Ok, pick my jaw up off the floor. Well, next he tells me you need to have your PCP find you a surgeon because no one here does that since your old surgeon left and we don’t know of anyone who takes your insurance. All I can think at this point is shit. This is going to take forever. Forever, that I am in pain. He basically patted me on the head and said come back if we can help with anything else.

I went home in so much pain. Thinking here we go again needing to find another doctor who takes my insurance and the whole time I have to sit and wait for this miracle I have to just deal with the pain. Then if we can find a doctor and get an appointment my partner will have to take time off to take me to the surgeries and possibly the appointment if it’s too far away. Fuck, another burden on her. She has enough shit to deal with. I am nothing but an albatross around her neck. She deserves someone who can be here to help her more. She deserves so much better than a broken down cripple. Add on top of all those thoughts the areas and pressure of family obligations and I was a real fucking mess.

I was so motherfucking pissed, sad, scared, frustrated, and in so much pain; both emotionally and physically. However, the most overwhelming feeling was of being tired. Tired of the fucking pain. Tired of being strong. Tired of the motherfucking pills. Tired of never feeling enough. Tired of being a burden. Tired of being passed off from one doctor to another. I was even tired of being so fucking tired. Put all these thoughts and feelings on an endless loop and the demons started to whisper sweet words in my ears.

The demon whispered that whiskey was the way to help. That sirens call is always in the back of my head. That night it was yelling come to me I will give you peace. I will give you oblivion. I will give you rest. I will make you forget everything. I will be your savior.

So what stopped you? Two things stopped me. The first being I know the lies that demon whispers. I knew if I went down that road that one of two things would have happened. I would have totally lost my shit and started punching the walls to cause enough pain to get the demons to get out of my head or I would have thrown the towel in and chucked it in the fuck it bucket and gotten truly serious about ending it all.

The second thing that stopped me was pain. The pain I would have cause so many by ending it all. The questions I would have left the people behind asking. Whether they could have stopped me? Whether I didn’t feel I could come to them? Why didn’t I love them enough to stick around? The never knowing why and the endless pain of loss and grief. That kind of pain eats at a person’s heart and soul and gives them a demon to fight. I know this pain and these questions. I carry this demon. I never want to be someone’s demon.

So, what did you do to stop this all? My partner was asleep for work and I just didn’t want to lay this at her feet. I didn’t want to be more of a burden than I already felt I was. So, I reached out to my two best friends. I called one and just told her to talk. It’s our signal that we are in the abyss and need a lifeline. I don’t know what she talked about but she calmed me enough that I could think a little clearer. The other friend I had been messaging with all day. I still don’t think she knows how much she held me together that day and evening. They both together steadied me enough that I could reach out to my tribe.

Why did you reach out to them? I reached out to them because I knew I was still deep in the abyss and they would understand. I wouldn’t be made to feel as if I am crazy. I would not be put down for being weak. They would cradle my heart and soul softly. Giving me the time and hope I needed to survive the night. These fellow warriors would be my rock. They would be my shoulder to cry on. They would fight for me because I was blinded and couldn’t see any light anymore. I know they realized how close I was to giving in, to giving up. These warriors saved my life that night.

How can you do this? You do this with the love and support around you. You reach out to anyone in your darkest moments. You find warriors like you that will walk beside you on your journey. You grab that tiny spark of hope that resides in the smallest corner of your soul and you breathe life into it daily. You remember me in your darkest moments. If you can’t see the light because you are blinded just reach out to the cosmos and my love for you, my hopes for you, my belief in you will always be there for you to grab. Hold it tight and know I am thinking of you and hoping the fates bring us together on our journeys. Then we can help, hope and support each other. When and if that day comes we will stand together, side by side, a war party of some of the most bad asses spoonie warriors ever seen.


Join the group of warriors here.


Linda’s letters is a chronically series. Did you miss the beginning? Start here with Letter #1.

Spoonie Story: Annette

spoonie story annette

Hi, my name is Annette and I’ve been a Spoonie my whole life. I have several birth “uniquenesses”. I had surgery the day I was born where they removed a rib which caused scoliosis. I had open heart surgery when I was 4.

spoonie story annette

I was blessed enough to to have been able to deliver a beautiful baby boy when I was 19. I say this because after him I could not have other children. I met my wonderful hubby when I was 25, with him I also was blessed with a beautiful daughter (don’t like to use step-daughter because I raised her since she was 4). I was married for only a year when I had to have a hysterectomy, they found I had endometriosis and 2 uterus, they also diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia and found I had thyroid cancer. Was also diagnosed with migraines and cluster headaches. That was a very hard year.

Been happily married now for 20 years. Two years ago my thyroid cancer came back, had 2 surgeries to deal with that, because first surgery the results came back negative for cancer but the tumor came back. I also suffer with depression, Degenerative disc disease (DDD), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), and sleep apnea. Was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, restrictive asthma and restrictive lung disease this past year.

With all that said, I’m a survivor. I’ve dealt with pain my whole life. I’ve always pushed through. I’m the person everyone relies on. I’m the caregiver of the family, like most moms. I’m on so many meds now and it’s starting to take its toll on me. It’s getting harder for me to walk, type, or basic things that others take for granted. I’ve had to go part time at my job and waiting on my disability.

I’m blessed with such a supportive family and friends who help me and totally understand when I have to take it easy. I have a beautiful granddaughter that is my heart, she keeps me going. I have other relatives that suffer from Fibro and arthritis including my mom and son. It’s so much harder for me to see them in pain. My faith is strong and is what really gets me through it all. At my lowest I just turn on my worship music and focus on God. I also love to color now, it’s very relaxing. I’m learning to focus on me and my health now because I want to be around for my family. I hope by sharing this others will know they are not alone.

Spoonie Story: Ally

spoonie story ally

My name is Ally, I am 38 years old and I am a single parent to two children, aged 11 & 18. I have MS and degenerative disc disease, which has changed my life.

spoonie story ally

Since the age of 16, I have worked full time and never been without a job. Around 16 years ago, I had a severe headache and lost the sight in both of my eyes. I spent months in hospital and was eventually treated with intravenous steroids. After the first course, my eyesight started to improve, so they gave me a second lot. After 6 months, my sight returned and I carried on as normal. 12 months later, it happened again but not so severe. This time, the steroids made my liver and kidneys start to fail and I spent Christmas in bed.

Fast forward to 2012, when I started to feel unwell, then was rushed into hospital after collapsing. For three months, I couldn’t move my legs. I had physio and used a wheelchair. I then had numerous hospital visits and emergency admissions. My symptoms at times included loss of movement, loss of speech, loss of vision, incontinence and inability to swallow. My neurologist suggested it may be a psychological issue rather than physical. I was devastated. Then 12 months ago I was diagnosed with MS.

I no longer work full time, my fatigue dictates that. I get told all the time I look tired and I need a rest… If only it were that simple. I feel unreliable as a friend and let people down often after making arrangements. I struggle with my confidence when in symptomatic and hide away. I feel inadequate as a parent, as my kids look after me often. But… Im a fighter!