Managing Pain and Fatigue at Work
Pain, fatigue and joint swelling can make working with arthritis a challenge. Finding effective ways to control pain, use your energy wisely and preserve your joints is an important aspect of successfully carrying out your role in the workplace.
Solutions and adjustments can be put in place to help you manage pain and fatigue at work. These include timing your prescribed pain medicines, applying heat or ice packs, balancing work activity with rest, modifying your workplace and simplifying the way you do things
Pushing through pain can make it worse and increase stress, fatigue and joint damage. Listen to your body, take note of the activities which cause you pain or cause your joints to swell. Work within your limits of pain by changing the way you do a certain activity or stopping activities before they cause pain.
Manage your pain medications
Speak with your doctor to identify the most suitable medications and medication schedule to make it easier for you to manage work. Also tell your doctor if your pain is affecting your sleep as this can have an impact on your work.
Pharmacists can suggest over-the counter products, such as creams, ointments or gels, which may complement your prescribed pain medications, but be sure to tell your pharmacist what medications you are taking.
Make the most of your energy
Make a list of tasks for the day or the week. Prioritise tasks that are most important or urgent, and identify unnecessary tasks which can be removed from your list or delayed.
Rotate work tasks, alternating jobs that require a lot of energy with lighter or less intensive duties. Break larger, more repetitive or physically demanding jobs into smaller parts and spread them across the day or week.
Conquer jobs at your own pace
Plan your day to balance periods of high activity with periods of rest. Set a steady pace and limit pain or fatigue by taking a short break or changing the task as soon as you start to feel uncomfortable. Speak with your employer about incorporating short rest breaks into your working day. If you can’t take a break, try slowing your pace for 5-10 minutes before resuming the task at a normal pace.
Get up and stretch
It is important to vary your position to relieve painful joints, replenish your energy levels, and help muscles to relax and recover. Ideally, change your position or stretch every 20 minutes. Alternate between activities involving sitting with those that can be done while standing.
For example, stand up to take a phone call, walk to the printer, or talk to colleagues. Leave your desk for meal breaks, and if your job involves driving, stop and stretch every hour during long trips.
Make your work space work for you
Find ways to maximise your work environment. Can your desk or workstation be moved closer to the photocopier, printer, kitchen or rest rooms, reducing the distance you need to walk if you are experiencing fatigue and pain? Can frequently used items be stored differently to make access easier? Can activities involving excessive bending or twisting be minimised?
Making simple changes to the environment, such as altering the height of the desk, or changing the way that work or household jobs are done can make a big difference.
Use equipment and gadgets to help you accomplish tasks
Use carts and trolleys to transport heavy items. Slide objects rather than lifting them. Select a writing instrument that is comfortable for your grip. Use a wireless headset while talking on the phone. Choose an ergonomic keyboard. Use long handled tools to extend your reach, such as shoehorns, dustpans and brooms. In the kitchen, use a jar opener, easy grip cooking utensils and lightweight, easy-grip knives and tools.
Exercise is one of the best ways to combat fatigue and help manage pain. Exercise can help strengthen your muscles and increase your stamina. The key to a successful exercise program is to begin gradually, listen to your doctor, and decide with your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist on a suitable exercise program.
Eat well and stay hydrated
A well-balanced diet is necessary for the body to receive all the nutrients it needs. A poor diet can contribute to fatigue. It is also important to remain hydrated, especially during the warmer months and if working outdoors.
Always consult your doctor, healthcare team or disability employment service provider for individual treatment and employment advice.
Arthritis Australia. Dealing with pain (fact Sheet). Sydney: Arthritis Australia, 2007, revised 2013.
Arthritis Australia. Saving energy (fact sheet). Sydney: Arthritis Australia, 2007, revised 2013.
Arthritis NSW. Managing fatigue at work (article). Originally published in Arthritis e-newsletter, Feb ed. Sydney: Arthritis NSW,2012
Job Access. Managing pain (fact sheet). Available from www.jobaccess.gov.au, accessed 6 August 2013.
Job Access. Workplace simplification and joint preservation techniques (fact sheet). Available from www.jobaccess.gov.au, accessed 6 August 2013.
The Arthritis Society. Arthritis in the workplace. Toronto:
The Arthritis Society, 2010. Independent Living Centre NSW. Joint protection (fact sheet). Sydney: Independent Living Centre NSW, 2012.