Experts advocate for a holistic approach to pain management and recovery for those experiencing work-related pain
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As COVID-19 brought more people out of their comfortable office chairs and into makeshift home offices, it brought something else along with it: musculoskeletal pain.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Anita Joy Edwards is founder and principal of GIG Design where she leads a team of health consultants who help individuals achieve their personal, health, and wellness goals. GIG is operated by Occupational Therapy practitioners who are committed to helping you live life to its fullest. If you decide to work with us, we will guide you through an O.T.-based process that will help you create, define and implement strategies that lead to long-term change.
While the line between work and home has always been blurred when it comes to experiencing pain, evidence points to the pandemic exacerbating the problem. Anxiety, depression, and social isolation, coupled with people working in less-than-suitable situations for the past 18 months, have led to increased physical pain for many.
Of course, people suffering from job-related pain is not limited to those who sit behind computers all day, and the problem has persisted long before COVID-19 sent workers to their spare bedrooms and couches. Production line workers, construction workers and countless others have long confronted the negative side effects of highly physical occupations.
Regardless of industry, pain serves up a myriad of negative personal and professional effects, including loss of productivity, decreased morale and poor performance at work.
For its second installment in its Wellness Webinar series, MiBiz partnered with Anita Joy Edwards, principal of GIG Design LLC and therapeutic pain specialist Megan Doyle, a co-founder of Navigate Pain, to dive into the details of pain, how our bodies react to it, and lifestyle decisions to better manage and alleviate that pain.
During the webinar, Edwards pointed to research that showed that more than half of all adults suffer from some sort of musculoskeletal disorder during the course of their lives. Many of those affiliated are in their prime earning years, accounting for some 264 million lost days of work per year across the workforce. Moreover, pain costs both those individuals suffering from it and their employers in numerous ways, from treatment and medication to lost wages, productivity and missed work.
“The sum of these costs in 2014 exceeded defense spending,” Edwards said during the webinar.
The Science of Pain
Ultimately, pain is a mental construct, allowing our brain to sense and interpret messages sent by our nerves signaling danger or damage. Occupational therapist and pain expert Doyle likens pain to our bodies' alarm bells telling us that something is wrong. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean bodily tissue has been impacted. Pain could just as well be our body’s way of telling us that we’ve had a poor night’s sleep, or are over-stressed and need to take a break.
“Pain is not the enemy, we just have to figure out what it’s trying to tell us,” she said.
Doyle cited research showing that prolonged stress levels, anxiety, confusion and exposure to a chaotic environment can all result in the onset and persistence of chronic pain. Likewise, poor fitness, obesity, smoking and diabetes can also increase a person’s risk for acute pain developing into chronic pain. Even social economic factors such as education, have been correlated with sustained pain.
As far as treating pain, both Doyle and Anita Edwards suggest people and practitioners take a holistic approach. During the onset of symptoms, Doyle noted the importance of lightening whatever workload caused the problem, but also suggested people remain physically active. A positive mental attitude regarding the problem and a willingness to find a solution can also go a long way in ensuring pain symptoms do not become chronic. The next step would be treatment, both physical and psychological therapies, and all forms of care that do not rely on pharmaceuticals.
“Sore, but Safe” or “No Pain, No Gain”
For companies, Doyle advocated that employers help instill a culture of self-care around pain. Too often, workers see work in a “no pain, no gain” scenario. Meaning, they believe it is necessary for them to continue to push through discomfort and pain to demonstrate they are a hard worker to their employer.
However, this approach can lead to employee injuries, fatigue, burnout and severe losses to morale and productivity. Instead, Doyle would like to see companies encourage their workers to take frequent breaks, participate in exercise, stretching, sleep, choosing healthy foods and other positive activities that have been shown to decrease pain.
Doyle likened workers, particularly those in highly physical positions, as “industrial athletes.”
“I would love for employers to recognize that their employees in those jobs are really industry athletes,” Doyle said. “When we look at it through that lens, hopefully it makes more sense for employers to say okay how can I keep my employee, that trained athlete, in shape to meet those work demands. I’m really doing myself a service by preventing those injuries from coming up.”
Watch the webinar here.
For more information about how employers can support team members with pain management or other employee wellness topics, visit www.gigdesign.me or call 616-777-7631.