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Adjusting your working hours when experiencing back pain

Adjusting your working hours when experiencing back pain

When experiencing back pain you may find it difficult to work your contract hours and may benefit from adjusting them. Many people with back pain find that spending long hours at a desk exacerbates their back pain, but they can cope with shorter periods of desk work. Your pain diary should give you insight into how you can organise your day to manage your back pain. Explain to your line-manager how your back pain affects your work and come up with suggestions on how you can cope with the pain and still do your job. For some this may mean talking a longer lunch break, or perhaps talking a 15-minute break every two hours or even having a shorter working day than normal. Agree with your line-manager a time period after which you will evaluate your new working pattern and possible return to your normal hours.

Some line-managers may be more supportive than others. Point out that you are perfectly able to do your job if these temporary adjustments are put in place and that there is no need to be signed off sick. Being off sick changes your daily activity pattern and this often leads to you being less active which can lengthen your experience of back pain.

Adjusting your tasks
As well as adjusting your working hours, you may also want to temporarily adjust your tasks and activities at work. Your back pain diary can help you assess which activities lead to more pain and what activities you are able to do without making it worse. Discuss this with your line-manager and see if you can come to an agreement on temporarily changing your work tasks.

For example, if you find that lifting heavy items or spending too long sat behind a desk makes your back pain worse, with the help of your line-manager and your colleagues you can find a way of temporarily not doing these activities. This will allow you some time to recover from your back pain and get back to your normal activities as soon as possible.

Getting help
You are not alone in having to manage back pain. Health and wellbeing is high on the agenda for many companies and organisations so ask your HR department or line-manager what programmes and policies your employer has in place.

Your GP can offer you advice and information on how to manage back pain and will also be able to refer you specific treatments such as exercise, manual therapy or acupuncture. You should note though that these treatments are commonly used by people who have been experiencing back pain for a few weeks or longer so initially it is better to stay active, use appropriate medication and see how the pain develops.

Sick leave
Traditionally employees were either healthy and at work or sick and on sick leave. This was because it was believed that being away from work gave people who were sick a better chance of recovering from their condition. However, we now know that this is not true. In most cases people are perfectly able to continue to work even when experiencing less than perfect health. This is especially true for a condition like back pain and in many cases going off sick can actually lead to longer periods of back pain. 

Extended periods of bed rest and inactivity will lead to further de-conditioning and worsening of symptoms. Going to works is a huge part of our daily activities so not going to work has a big impact on this. Consider the following:

  • Travelling to work and work itself is part of your (physical) activity of the day
  • Work allows you to interact with colleagues and friends
  • Work gives you some distraction from your back pain
  • People at work can support you in managing back pain
  • Work provides a sense of achievement and can boost your self-confidence

    All these factors also have an impact on how you experience back pain. Not being able to go to work affects your activity pattern, your social interactions and your ability to rely on friends and colleagues for support and advice.

    At the same time, your absence from impacts on your colleagues and your employer. We all know what it is like to having to cover for others when they are off sick. Furthermore when you go off sick, your colleagues will miss your skills and expertise.

    For this reason it is helpful to avoid sick leave as much as possible. Both the employee and the employer have an interest in preventing someone from being off sick. In some cases sick leave may be needed, but try to keep these periods to a minimum.

    With some temporary adjustments to your working hours and duties it is likely that you will be able to continue to go to work. This is not only beneficial for you and other employees, but also to your employer.


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Please note that all information contained on this website or provided by our team is for reference purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice or medical opinion.
We always recommend consulting a qualified healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

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