Chronic pain can prevent us from doing things we like to do…but it can also impact our ability to do what we have to do – namely work.
Studies have shown that people with a chronic pain condition struggle with missing work days, staying employed and finding employment that fits with their condition…and many simply leave the workforce altogether. Recent research suggests that the financial cost of pain to society is around $560 to $635 billion, taking into account days of work missed, hours of work lost, lower wages and healthcare costs. The reality is that it’s in the employee and the employer’s best interest to have a good job fit for pain sufferers.
So to get the right “fit” and stay gainfully employed, what should you be looking for in a job?
Here are a few things to look for in employment if you have some form of chronic pain:
Flexible hours or the ability to set your own schedule
This way you can take time to rest when you’re having a flare-up and work when you are feeling healthy.
Freedom of physical movement
Avoid long periods of either sitting or standing and have the ability stand up, sit down and walk around when necessary. The ability to take regular breaks is a must.
Little to no travel
Long car rides and being stuck in an airport or hotel when pain flairs up can inhibit work and increase your stress level.
Remote work/work from home options
As with flexible hours, this allows you to listen to and accommodate your body’s needs when you are experiencing pain.
Stress impacts just about any pain condition. The more you can minimize your stress, the better you can cope with pain and juggle work at the same time.
No physical harm
Avoiding repetitive movements, extensive use of hands and stooping or bending is imperative in a good job for chronic pain sufferers.
Job options if you have chronic pain
Not all will agree – but this list was compiled by listening to chronic pain sufferers and learning which jobs they have found easier to do while living with their condition. It is not exhaustive, and as stated, some do not think all of these jobs would work for a pain sufferer.
Why: Variety of work, not sitting at a desk for too long, not too much repetition. This work has been found to be linked with less occupational injuries. Unless there is a significant amount of typing, being an Administrative Assistant involves less repetitive movements and most in this job have the flexibility to take breaks when needed.
Why: More laid back and empathetic to your physical limitations. Non-profits can offer many of the same types of work as for-profits. Studies have shown that working for a philanthropy can make you feel better. It’s an opportunity to help others instead of focusing on your own problems and pain.
Why: More flexibility in schedule likely, ability to have a standing desk. Software and high-tech companies tend to be more progressive and offer more accommodations for their employees.
Why: Likely able to work from home, flexible schedule, ability to make work space comfortable and take breaks. Even if you can’t work from home, you’ll likely have the ability to customize your work space for comfort, as writers are generally thought to need “creative space” – and your pain accommodations can be a part of this.
Real Estate Agent
Why: Complete flexibility of schedule, not standing or sitting for too long. For the most part, realtors work from home or outside of an office for a good part of each day. As well, the ability to reschedule client meetings and home showings if you feel poorly resides within your hands.
Why: Total work from home flexibility. To be a good fit for a pain sufferer, they need to be someone who does not have hand pain (due to the typing required). Transcription offers general, legal and medical transcription careers.
Why: Control of your schedule, less stress. As with other work-from-home options, being “independent” offers the most flexibility. Since you set your own schedule, you often have the ability to move around or the ability to rest, if needed.
Why: Set your own schedule, variety of work, not too much sitting or standing required. Becoming a coach may require training or just taking what you’ve learned in your career and becoming the trainer for others. Life coach, business coach and health coach are a few common “coaching” options.
If you have migraine…
Having regular migraine can make holding down a job almost impossible for some people. There is so little control for the triggers and timing of when a migraine headache will pop up, and when you do get them, there is often little you can do other than lie down. But many migraine sufferers have found a way to transition a job that didn’t work into a job that did without making a complete career change.
You may transition…
From school teacher to academic tutor – and gain more flexibility and control of the teaching environment
From general contractor to manufacturer’s sales rep – utilizing your industry knowledge in a job with more flexibility and less exposure to migraine triggers
From maternity nurse to lactation consultant – leaving the bright lights, sleep disruption and stress of the hospital to getting better sleep and visiting new mothers in their own homes
Let’s not forget about fibromyalgia
One other pain condition that can almost debilitate sufferers is fibromyalgia. By far the best types of jobs for fibro sufferers offer flexibility of schedule and movement as well as low levels of physical and emotional stress. Ones that allow for the use assistive aids (headrest, lumbar support) are also ideal. As well, jobs that allow you to dress comfortably work better. The bottom line is that work-from-home jobs put all the control in your hands. And possibly, you’ll get to pick work you are interested in and enjoy doing as well as work that offers the ultimate flexibility.
Worst job choices
We hope your job is not on this list…but if it is, you may want to consider a career change. Some of the worst jobs for chronic pain sufferers include:
- Truck driver
- Elementary school teacher
- Healthcare provider
- Construction worker
- Food industry
- Auto mechanic
It may take some time, additional skill development and creativity to find a job and career that works for you. Two great resources exist to help you find the right job:
My Employment Options– They are a resource for job seekers with a disability. Clients are recipients of Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) and (SSI) and get help (for free) to find suitable employment in either work-at- home or community jobs.
Ticket to Work – This is a free and voluntary program that can help individuals receiving SSDI or SSI benefits go to work, so they can become financially independent.
If you do hit a wall in a traditional job search, you can go a different route to make money while living with your chronic pain condition– and some of these ideas may be a great sideline source of income as well.