If your job involves heavy lifting, squatting, bending, repetitive motion, or any activity that puts regular demand on your muscles and joints, you’re probably no stranger to pain. Here are a few refreshers, and perhaps brand new approaches, for you to try at home as you manage your job-related achiness, stiffness and pain.
1. When it comes to work-related pain, start with prevention.
Strains and sprains are common types of workplace injuries that can cause pain. Some of the most frequent causes of strains and sprains are:
• Excessive force
• Excessive repetition
• Poor posture and lifting techniques
• Poor health, including smoking, excessive drinking and unhealthy weight
• Not enough rest and recovery
• Poor nutrition, fitness and hydration
Some jobs simply require exertion, force, and lots of repetition, and there will be no immediate way to change that. However, you can start to become aware of your body mechanics (ergonomics) on the job. This is about positioning yourself and your tools so that individual muscles don’t have to do too much of the work.
2. Use electrotherapy (TENS) for relief of aches and pains resulting from work.
Doctors, physical therapists and chiropractors have employed Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) in their offices for more than 30 years, it is available today for home use. TENS units, as they are called, use safe, mild pulses to offer temporary pain relief. This kind of electrotherapy is best for acute muscle and joint pain located in a local area that has lasted less than three months.
Tips for using a TENS unit at home:
• To get the right effect, follow the instructions on your TENS unit carefully
• Start with a 15-minute session
• Rate your pain from 1 to 10 before, during and after
• Start soon after you receive the injury or notice pain
There are different reasons TENS units are effective. Scientific theory suggests that TENS has the ability to block pain messages from reaching the brain, to encourage circulation, and to help the body produce natural endorphins. TENS is a healthy alternative to over-the- counter or prescription drugs.
For more information on TENS click here.
3. Is your pain acute or chronic? Use temperature therapy the right way based on your answer.
Heat and cold are both effective ways to treat injuries and the pain that follows from them. However, it’s important to apply the right therapy at the right time to avoid making injuries worse.
Cold for new, heat for old
A general rule of thumb is to use ice for sudden, intense pain and swelling and use heat for chronic aches and pains. (Note that your heat source should always be warm, not hot.)
By this hot and cold rule, you might apply ice to a fresh injury. Then, after the acute swelling and intense pain are relieved—which could take hours, days or weeks—switch to heat. Heat is ideal for the longer-term stiffness, soreness and achiness that follow an injury.
One general guideline is to use ice for injuries less than six weeks old and warmth for injuries more than six weeks old, and also for arthritis.
Common warm and cold therapies for job-related pain include:
• Heating pads
• Heating packs
• Hot towels
• Warm baths, whirlpools and saunas
• Warm baths with epsom salts
• Ice packs
• Cold sprays and gels
4. Use pain medication safely and responsibly.
Ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin are all safe forms of pain relief when used as they are intended. Even though these pain medications are available over the counter, they are still serious drugs. Abusing them in the short term or using them for a very long time can contribute to kidney disease, strokes and bleeding disorders.
The opioid epidemic
Drug overdoses are now the number one source of injury in the U.S. The opioid epidemic, as it’s being called, is partly to blame. Oxycodone, morphine and illegal drugs like heroin are all examples of opioids. Legal opioids are only effective for temporary pain relief, and should never be used without a prescription or without careful monitoring from a doctor.
5. If pain supplements are supported by evidence, try them for work-related pain.
Research shows some supplements may have a beneficial effect for managing pain on and off the job. Here are a few.
A note on the term “osteoarthritis”
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint condition, and it’s characterized by achy, stiff and painful joints. Osteoarthritis results from wear and tear. Lifting, bending, straining, repetitive motions, and other work-related activities are all suspects. But you don’t have to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis to benefit from pain-management techniques.
6. Consider an anti-inflammatory diet to help manage chronic pain.
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. The heat, redness, swelling and pain caused by inflammation can become chronic. Fish, other foods with Omega 3 fats, and antioxidant-rich foods all may play a role in reducing unnecessary inflammation. On the flipside, trans fats, refined sugars, deep-fried foods and red meat may be pro-inflammatory foods.
7. Use healthy, low-impact exercise and strength training to reduce pain and improve flexibility.
The last thing you may want to do after a day of hard labor is go to the gym. However, movement has a very beneficial effect on relieving pain. Yoga, Tai Chi, swimming and biking are just a few examples of exercises that help circulation, promote flexibility and help fluidity of joint movement.
In addition to exercising your joints through movement, safely exercising your muscles with strength training may benefit you on the job. Healthy strength training, preferably under the coaching of a physical trainer, won’t just make it easier to lift heavy objects. It can also take the load off of isolated muscles that are working too hard.
(Yes, the old cliché of “lifting with the legs” applies. Squats are just one example of a strength-training exercise that makes it easier to lift with the legs, taking strain off of your back.)
Safely fitting exercise into an active life
Exercising in the mornings, on your days off, or in the evening after you’ve had time to rest are ways of working exercise into your active life. The importance of rest can’t be emphasized enough. Work with a physical trainer to get guidance on planning out your rest days.
Prevention techniques, especially body mechanics/ergonomics, are the best way to defeat work-related injuries and pain. For those inevitable times when physical work does lead to aches and pains, TENS units, hot and cold therapy, nutrition, supplements and safe exercise are great ways to lessen the effects of routine sprains, strains, wear and tear.