12 Tips for Managing Chronic Pain While Working Full-Time
Pain is, well, a pain. Living with Crohn’s disease and depression, physical pain is something that comes with the territory. With both of these conditions, pain can manifest in different ways – anything from standard abdominal pain to joint pain to “I cannot move because every nerve is firing off at once” pain.
Over the years I have developed some tricks to manage the pain while waiting for a treatment to kick in, or just to get through a particularly hard day. Here are 12 of them.
Please note – I am not a doctor. If you are experiencing extreme pain, call your doctor and set up a game plan. These tips are specific to me and my conditions and have been approved by my doctor for me to use.
1. Start the day listening to a motivational speech. I know, it sounds corny. But financially I cannot call in every time I feel symptoms or anytime I am experiencing a bad pain day. Most of the time I have to work through them. Not ideal, but right now there is not much I can do about it. So to counter all of the negative thoughts that go through my head, I listen to a few inspirational videos while getting ready for work.
2. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time in the morning to get ready. Waking up rushed does not help anyone or anything. When I have to rush to work I feel worse than when I give myself an extra hour to get ready, and then forget something important at home, like my emergency pills. It also mentally prepares me for the day ahead of me. I can also take things slow…even if that means lying down for a half hour after getting dressed.
3. Stretch and go for a walk. Both before work, during and after. To be clear – I do not me going for a 10 mile run. I mean little movements here and there. In the morning I do some light yoga to open up, and proceeded to crack my hips and legs. I work in an office, which means cubicle land. Luckily for me, that also means that if I can go for a two minute “lap” around my cubicle neighbors. When I worked retail, I usually had to be discrete about it, or ask to help out my manager in order to stretch or move from my station. When I get home after being in traffic for an hour, I stretch again. If I’m feeling up to it I may do some light cleaning or go for a walk outside. Regardless, how and at what intensity moving helps keep joints and muscles working, and afterwards I typically feel much better.
4. Manage energy wisely. Delegate simple tasks to save yourself from energy vampires and schedule the necessary ones so that they do not affect work or other important tasks. In other words, budget your energy.
Here is how I budget some of my energy:
I work 10 hours, four days a week. I “schedule” my showers for Sunday and Wednesday late morning, and Fridays after work – using dry shampoo and wipes for the rest of the days. This way I can still work and keep up with hygiene without burning myself out.
5. Find a “tolerable” position. Like I said, I work in an office, which currently means a desk job sitting down in a chair that does not let the back lock and rolls – two things that make it difficult for me to sit without pain. To compensate for this, I switch up my sitting position. Sometimes sitting upright, cross legged, one foot under me…even sometimes on the floor. Point is, I am in pain in all of the positions…just to a lesser degree. I can ignore pain up to a six, so when sitting in a position caused pain to reach even a little higher than a six, I switch it up. As long as my work gets done, my boss doesn’t care how I sit.
6. Epsom salt bath soak. This works wonders on the body. I usually put four cups into warm or hot water and sit in the bath for 20 minutes, with a book I do not mind getting wet, before bed. This helps to relax all of the muscles in the body and helps me to wind down to go to sleep. Plus my pain goes away for about an hour afterwards.
7. Get a good night’s sleep…if you can. What helps me is taking melatonin gummies, just before going to bed. The more tired I am, the higher my pain and the less I am able to handle in a day before breaking down. So I make sure to give my body as much rest as possible by doing everything in my control to insure a good night’s sleep.
8. Use a heating pad and heating blanket. These are a staple when my stomach or back muscles will not relax – even with the bath. I make sure to keep tabs on the heat intensity so as not to burn myself and to make sure that the time limit is set on both when I curl up with them, either at night, at work or on a bad day at home.
9. Over the counter pain medication. I typically stick to acetaminophen because any other over the counter pain medication can cause intestinal bleeding and more gastrointestinal issues. Let your doctor and pharmacist know if you are taking any over the counter medication. They need to know for both your safety and their ability to effectively treat you. For example, I currently cannot take any over the counter medication because my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication will become ineffective.
10. Keep track with apps. The more information you can give your doctors, the better they can help treat you. There are a few apps that have helped me with keeping track of my Crohn’s symptoms as well as pain levels. These are simply my recommendations and I do not get compensated in anyway for recommending them. The apps are “myColitis” and “PainScale.” I love data and both of these apps are great for seeing averages as well as trends. This saves time when discussing how your doing and helps achieve remission faster.
11. Cry and laugh. Holding in strong emotions like misery can make pain worse. After a good cry my body is more relaxed than before, and my pain is not as bad either. Laughing does the same thing for my body as well.
12. Know your limits. Pain does damage to your body and also drains you. When I work through my pain, on my days off I am very limited in what I can accomplish besides sleeping and it can take a long time to recover.
Getty Image by James Woodson