5 Easy and Effective Ways to Reduce Your Nagging Pain While at Work
If you are anything like me, you have probably experienced (or are currently experiencing...) annoying, nagging discomfort while working at your computer, job site, or even trying to enjoy a casual lunch break outing.
In the global context, pain is multifactorial and can be influenced by a variety of factors while going through your work day. Outside of actually having an injury that may directly link to your pain, the annoying noise of pain constantly changing volume in the background can be related to factors throughout your work day.
Here are some examples of those factors. How many of these do you identify with?
Increased stress levels
Increased screen time
Hours upon hours of sitting
Imbalance between working hard and taking care of your body
Knowing how each of these impacts your pain is less important at this point than understanding what you can do easily, effectively, and immediately to start reducing your nagging pain while at work. I mean, that's why you clicked on this blog in the first place. Below are the five ways you can start to take control of your nagging discomfort throughout your work day including super helpful nutrition and hydration information provided by an excellent, Atlanta based Registered Dietitian an CEO of Empower Nutrition, Laura Hamilton.
1. Movement, movement, movement
Our bodies are designed to move no matter how you are able to do it. Movement helps to improve our blood flow and stimulate our nervous system. Exercising at lunch or during longer breaks is a great way to implement movement into your workday.
Want added benefit? Go outside, breathe in the fresh air, soak up a little bit of sunshine, and engage in your surroundings.
2. Give yourself (many) mini-breaks
I get it. You're busy. You don't have time for any breaks throughout your day. This may be 100% true, but I am going to guess that you can at least find 5 minutes in the next 1-2 hours where you are not fully engaged with your work. Try taking a 5-10 minute mini-break once every hour or every two hours and completely disengage from your work and allow for your working brain to relax. Go stand outside, talk or laugh with a colleague, close your eyes, daydream, look at art, etc. Whatever you decide to do should not involve work, screen time (which we will get to later), or mental hurdles.
As a bonus, taking mini-breaks during your work day can also have positive effects on your overall productivity and memory recall (Tork, 2018)
3. Reduce your screen time or at least your blue light consumption
Search for "blue light consumption and effects on sleep," and you will find unending articles that say something about poor sleep quality and the negative effect on the sleep-wake cycle. Improving our sleep quality can greatly affect our moods, ability to focus, recover from injury, and reduce our levels of stress (Worley, 2018). In turn, this can impact our pain experience and reduce the irritability of that annoying pain at work. Here are some of my suggestions:
Take mini-breaks from your computer, tablet, and phone throughout the day. Don't substitute looking at your phone during your mini-break from your computer and so forth.
Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Try to disengage from screens outside of working hours if this is possible to do in your life.
4. Nourish your body - contributed by Laura Hamilton, Registered Dietitian and owner of Empower Nutrition in Atlanta, GA
What we eat plays a large role in how we feel and this directly relates to our pain management. When our diets become too full of the Quick & Easy foods that are low in vital nutrients which protect our bodies from harm, we tend to see our bodies inflamed. The longer this behavior persists the more chronic and harder to manage pain and inflammation becomes. “Chronic pain is associated with elevated weight status, risk of multi-morbidity, suboptimal dietary patterns and diet quality" (Brain et al., 2017). Here are a few ways to combat chronic inflammation/pain through diet/nutrition:
Antioxidants that can have an anti-inflammatory effect helping to soothe and prevent painful flare-ups. These foods include: whole fruits (especially all types of berries), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
Increase omega-3 fatty acids
Salmon and sardines, flaxseed oil or canola oil, linseed
Saturated and trans fats such as butter, processed and fast foods and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Limit polyunsaturated fats such as sunflower and safflower oils
Dehydration can increase sensitivity to pain. In older populations, dehydration can perpetuate poor wound healing and constipation. Water is essential for waste elimination as well as circulation of nutrients. Both can influence healing, and pain. Often our thirst can be mistaken for hunger. If people were hydrated better they may even consume less food. Aim for ~64-100oz of water per day. Be sure to have a large water bottle with you every day (33oz) and work through it 3x to ensure fluid goals are met
Fiber is important for proper digestion, colon health, a healthy microbiome and even weight management. When increasing fiber intake, it is important to increase fluid intake as well. Fiber and fluid work together to prevent constipation. Adult females should consume ~25g/day and adult males ~30g/day.
How to meet those goals:
Switch to whole meal/whole grain breads (2 slices=6g), breakfast cereals (3/4 cup=4.5g), pastas (1 cup=10g), mixed vegetables (1/2 cup=4g), fruit with the skin on (1 apple=2g) and 4 bean mix (1/2 cup=6g). If absolutely necessary, you can take fiber supplements (Mueslix) can be used, although its best comes from whole foods.
Reduce added sugar
Sugar is on the rise and abundance of sugar generally leads to weight gain, and inflammation. Long term overuse can lead to Diabetes and Cardiovascular disease (Srour et al., 2019).
Ideas include: reduce sugary drinks and swap for water or unflavored mineral water. Make fruit and vegetables a part of a convenient snack option. Switch to reduced fat yogurt (no sugar added). Instead of stopping for or ordering in fast food, try cooking at home more often.
GOOD NEWS! Laura has offered up her anti-inflammatory meal plan for you to enjoy!
5. Sit, stand, or move as you can...often
We have already discussed adding movement throughout your day, and it is also worthwhile to add some variety to your working posture during the day as well. Maintaining a static position for too long during the day can contribute to muscle and joint stiffness (Carter and Banister, 1994). This is especially problematic if you maintain one posture all day and then exercise in the evenings. Practicing healthy movement habits and postural changes during the day can allow for improved participation with health activity afterwards as well as reduced discomfort experienced from increased time in less than ideal postures.
I highly recommend working in multiple positions over the course of the day - especially if you have the option to stand. Investing in a standing desk frame or desk that converts from standing to sitting is highly worthwhile if you spend a majority of your time behind a computer screen.
Other options to consider would include completing work tasks while standing up that don’t require sitting at a desk such as taking phone calls, attending meetings, etc.
The information provided above includes just some of the ways to reduce your nagging pain while at work and are generalized to capture a majority of common aches and pains that people experience on the job. Many of these examples can be applied to almost any job situation and are worth trying to build habits around.
Are you having difficulty shaking that ongoing nagging pain? Have a physical therapist or other healthcare provider examine this with you and come up with a plan to improve your quality of life while at work. Sustainable solutions for problems like these are created at REACH Physical Therapy!
We hope that you enjoyed the blog!
Have any questions for Laura Hamilton? You can contact her here!
Dustin Lee PT, DPT
Laura Hamilton MA, RD, CSP, LD
Brain K, Burrows T, Rollo ME, Hayes C, Hodson FJ, Collins CE. Population characteristics in a tertiary pain service cohort experiencing chronic non-cancer pain: Weight status, comorbidities, and patient goals. Healthcare (Basel) 2017;5(2)
Carter JB, Banister EW. Musculoskeletal problems in VDT work: a review. Ergonomics. 1994 Oct;37(10):1623-48. doi: 10.1080/00140139408964941. PMID: 7957019.
Srour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Andrianasolo RM, Chazelas E, Deschasaux M, Hercberg S, Galan P, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé). 2019;365:l1451.
Tork. (2018). Take back the lunch break survey findings. https://cdntorkprod.blob.core.windows.net/docs-c5/763/185763/original/tork-takes-back-survey.pdf
Worley SL. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research. P T. 2018 Dec;43(12):758-763. PMID: 30559589; PMCID: PMC6281147.