The Most Notorious Sources of Pain at Work and Their Solutions

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

The bumper sticker read, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go…” Unfortunately, the whistling while you work is quickly silenced by a painful experience at work. Eight hours per day, five days per week can be grueling when an ache, burn or throb is screaming at you. Happy tunes and cheery melodies cannot mask the intensity of some pains. Which pains are the most notorious pains at work?

Neck Pain: In this high-tech, computer-age, neck pain is probably the most common work-related pain of all. Sitting at a poorly designed workstation all day, everyday is a common cause of neck pain. If you are experiencing an unrelenting pain in the neck, ask a co-worker to observe you while you work. This co-worker might notice you hunching over frequently, squinting to get closer to the computer screen, or peering down the end of your nose to view through the reading glasses you are wearing. These observations are clues to your solution for neck pain at work. By elevating a computer monitor, getting a pair of mono-focal lenses dedicated for working on the computer, or adjusting your seat, you may notice the neck pain gradually disappearing with time and workstation changes.

Back Pain: Low back pain has been afflicting humans ever since the first one stood upright. Back pain probably afflicted cavemen while carrying heavy game back to the home fire. Back pain continues to cost millions of healthcare dollars and lost work hours. These days instead of injuring our spines by carrying a 100 lb. carcass back to the cave, we are killing our spines with a sedentary lifestyle. Our core muscles are getting soft and weak. Our balance is also deteriorating as our overall fitness loses ground. The people that are most prone to back pain are the ones with a poorest fitness level in addition to a physically demanding job. Not being properly trained for the level of work you are doing is probably the biggest risk factor for the occurrence of back pain on the job. The more strenuous your job, the fitter you need to be. Firemen, policemen, contractors, and professional athletes all need a very high level of physical strength in order to avoid injury to the low back. Heavy lifting, twisting and trauma are the most common causes of a low back injury at work.(1) Preventive biomechanics training and fitness training are the best solutions for this age-old problem: work-related low back pain.

Shoulder Pain: Oftentimes neck pain and shoulder pain are associated with each other. But isolated rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder can also occur at work. The tendons in the shoulder can get very inflamed with frequent reaching, pulling and pushing especially when done overhead. Two simple pieces of advice can prevent this type of pain at work. First, move objects that you reach for frequently closer to you. If you reach for the phone frequently, move it closer to you on your desk. If you reach for a button or lever frequently, ask to have it moved to a location closer to you. Second, try keeping your elbow at your side more often. This position eases the pressure on the sensitive tendons in your shoulder. Because of the repetitive nature of our jobs, the simplest changes can greatly impact the way your shoulders feel at work.

Foot Pain: Because many people are on their feet throughout the day, foot pain plagues a majority of people at some point in their career. From healthcare workers to retail salespeople, foot pain is a very notorious problem at the workplace. Lots of hard earned money is spent on solutions like new shoes, shoe inserts, orthotics, soft mats and medical care. All of these options can offer a potential cure. But one important treatment option is often overlooked. Strengthening the entire leg is a very important, yet overlooked treatment option for foot pain. Throughout the entire kinetic chain, from the buttocks all the way to the arches of the feet, muscles help to support the foot posture. Poor foot posture just like poor spine posture can lead to an endless cycle of pain. Hyperpronation is the most commonly encountered abnormal foot posture that leads to many foot problems. A physical therapist can help you correct the position of your feet if you are plagued with foot pain. (2)


(1) Scand J Rehabil Med. 1983;15(2):71-9.

(2) Phys Sportsmed. 2004 Aug;32(8):19-26

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.