Sunday, September 2, 2007

Work Issues and Pain

Work Issues and Pain. "How does pain affect your work life? Are you able to work? Has pain forced you to give up work?"

I was invited to address a topic related to these questions, along with several other people who blog about pain, by How To Cope With Pain. See my post here. To see all the other posts in this carnival, go to the How To Cope With Pain blog.

Stop and think about work for a moment.
Not about your work - but about what work means, what it is and what it could be like.
If you look at some of the more common family names in Germany for example you'll find a lot of people that have a profession as their family name - "Müller" (Miller), "Zimmermann" (Carpenter), "Schuster" (Shoemaker), "Metzger" (Butcher), ...
That means that at one time people where defined by what they did for a living.

How about you?
Does your work give you your identity - or at least part of it?
If it doesn't - what does that say about your whole life situation?
I think that it is absolutely impossible for someone just to have a job. Work does so much more: it structures the day, gives you an income, provides you with social support, takes your mind of things, ...

Not all jobs are created equal though. Some even add to the problem - or are the cause of all the trouble you experience. If that is the case it's time to leave - fast. The stress response we all have is a wonderful thing - it helps us get out of trouble by preparing our body to fight or to get away quickly.

However - if the stress response is turned on constantly our bodies start to suffer very badly. Tissue breaks down and isn't rebuilt properly, oxygenation is surpressed in certain areas, digestion is shut down, bones become brittle - all leading to severe stress related diseases that crop up later in life in a lot of people.

If you can't get out - you have to find something that takes your mind of things in your free time. Yes - you have to - otherwise things will turn out bad. Being under chronic stress makes you more vulnerable to develop chronic pain problems. And if you already suffer from chronic pain the additional stress of the workplace doesn't help either.

In an ideal world - or "fantasy world" as some would call it work is a big help. Apart from the financial aspect distraction is the factor that is most important. Our brains have only a very limited working memory. That means we can only focus on one thing at a time. If you have a chronic painful condition your attention is automatically drawn towards the painful experience. If you have a demanding task at hand however your brain can't deal with these two things at once - it has to shut out one of them.
Ideally the painful one of course.

Regardless of what you are doing for a living - try to do everything - even movements that you have done for years - with a fresh "mind" - starting from scratch. Analyze the movement, pay attention to it. That way you "overload" your brain with fresh visual and sensory information - hopefully distracting yourself and your brain away from the pain.

Do this long enough and some (all) of the painful movements you experienced before might be re-wired (or overwritten) - in a non-painful way.

If you had to stop working because of the injury or the pain - find something that gives you some of the same positive things work provides: a sense of purpose, structure, motivation, a creative outlet - anything but doing nothing! Like I said - Distraction is the key.

Happy Labor Day!

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it: ;-)

Another Bloody Day At Work


Emily said...

i really enjoyed reading this entry; especially the clinical aspect of working with chronic pain. :) your photos are beautiful, i will be back to see those, even if i can't read the words - do you write often in english, or pretty exclusively in german?

Matthias Weinberger said...

Thanks for your comment.
You can enjoy my pictures at - there's a link that takes you to my account on Flickr.

I will try to do more postings in English - but my main audience is German - so that's the focus for the time being.

jeisea said...

Great post Matthias. I'll post about this on my blog and refer to HTCwP's carnival. I'm particularly interested in that idea that by "'overloading' your brain with fresh visual and sensory information you can distract yourself and your brain away from the pain,
and that if you do this long enough then some (all) of the painful movements you experienced before might be re-wired (or overwritten) - in a non-painful way." This is a cool concept and a drug free, pain free way to help myself I think.

I'm giving you a link to Babel Fish. Someone told me that there's an advanced version. You can put this on your site and readers can translate and read your posts.
AltaVista - Babel Fish Translation


Matthias Weinberger said...

Hi Jan!

Attention is a limited resource. There is only so much "mental energy" one has available.
Pain is only painful because it's able to take hold of all the attention the brain can muster.

"Overloading" the brain and providing new visual, auditory, tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive information requires the brain to direct the attention towards processing that information.
That's why we are able to "forget time" when we are really concentrating. The same goes for pain.

I tried the translator but it still is very akward to read. You get a general idea what the posting is about - but a lot of it get's lost too.

I have to do the postings in English myself. Who needs sleep anyway? ;-)

Leigh said...

What a wonderful post! I found your site through the HTCwP carnival, but will definitely be back for more.