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Talking about work and spine problems

Cath111CCath111 Posts: 3,553
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:50 AM in Maintenance
Having just gone back to work, I'm realizing that there's a possible need for us to discuss work and its impact on our spines and lives.

For me, I've just started a job for a company I used to work for so the stress of getting to know new people is not a problem as I know many of them already. But the work itself is making my body do a lot of new things that I haven't had to do in years and it's making me rethink how I do things. It was really easy when I was home, I only did what I wanted - yes, I did some things that really set off a flare, but I could rest the next day. Not now. I believe I'll be able to stay in this job and with this company for many years to come, but there's always that worry that my cervical problems will get worse and I'll have to deal with that any juggling my job in the future.

So is anyone interested in sharing their stories or asking questions about work and spine problems?

Are you debating when you should go back to work post-op?
Did you go back to work too soon after surgery? If so, what happened?
Are you having to work while trying to get a diagnosis and having a hard time?
Can you and do you take pain meds while working and able to function well in your job?
Or do you have to hold off on the meds, and take meds when you get home and unable to function?
Are you debating whether you can do your job or not?
Do you think you might have to change your profession?
Have you started a new job and having a difficult time adjusting?
Are you finding that others in your office are giving you difficulties due to your spine problems?
Is the commute a major problem due to sitting too long while driving?

I'm just throwing all this out there to see how many members would like to specifically have this area to talk about working and spine problems.



  • jlrfryejjlrfrye ohioPosts: 1,111
    As you and I have talked I am having a very difficult time readjusting to work. As you know this is a new position for me and I would love to be able to retire from this job. That is my plan but having said that I am struggling on a daily basis. By struggling I mean I am now having all kinds of new pains that I did not have before. Sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day makes my cervical spine feel as if it is collapsing. The pressure is getting worse and worse daily. I have damage in my hands from the cervical stenosis and the 8 hours of typing causes my hands to hurt something terrible and by the time I am home I can barely use my hands. The question I have to answer is how long can I work like this? Will this subside after being back at work for awhile or will it progress? Is this fair to allow my employer all the time to train me and then discover I cant do this? I am at a loss at what to do. I really do want to give it some more time but I have a appointment with my pain doctor and I am going to discuss the issues with him and am going to take his advice on what I should do. That gives me one more week to pray that all the pain settles down. Cath I hope your time at work is going easier for you then me and I hope you reach your goal of retirement from this company
  • I work in an office setting now after a good 10 years as a high volume waitress.. within just a few short months of sitting in an office chair in front of a computer all day - the herniated disk came on - fast forward 7 years / four surgeries / countless injections / meds.... and this week I'm having a flare... It's a mental and physical challenge going to work each morning during this 2 week plus flare.. but I simply do not have the means to even consider other options.. I need to work. I work for a wonderful company and sad to say that I'm not the only one in the office with a serious condition involving what we spineys go thru... My opinion.. It's a balancing act. Each of my surgeries have left me out - away from my customers for a minimum of three months.. getting back into the game after being out for those months takes valuable catch up time. - and you fellow Chair sitters - you really need to get an ergonomic chair and sitting situation or you can/will hurt your condition more.. one of the worst things we can do is be in that horrible sitting possition for a long period of time.. Have you gotten up from your chair stiff and 'walking funny' already? - Getting up to walk around every 20-30 minutes can help. A walk at each break can help. Standing up and stretching when you start to get tight can help. Ergonomic gloves can help with typing and hand pain ... but I can't and no one here can tell you how to handle talking to your company about your condition. On the flip side.. Getting up every morning and being with people - being in public - being productive can do wonders on your self worth and your spirit. Routine is a wonderful distraction when pain is an every day issue. Lots of Luck to you fellow Spineys.
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  • Thanks for putting this out there. I expect to be cleared to work at my 3 month follow up appt next week. I manage 4 call centers and have to commute at least 2-3 days per week to them and sometime am in my car for 2 hours++ each way .. I sit behind a computer all day. I do plan to get up and walk/stretch alot during the day however the long drives has me worried ... would love to hear from other spineys who have gone back to work with long commutes and any tips there.
    My concern too is my company is going thru lay-offs every quarter - if I can't pull my weight or really even if I can - I could get laid off!
    I am still in PT and plan to continue the stretches and weights on my own too - just know that once I go back to work - with balancing 2 small children - I will be challenged to fit in time for me to take care of me - which is probably how I got to this point to begin with ...
    Again love any tips or advice.
  • Cath,
    Working and spine issues are difficult, staying in employment and adapting to challenging changing circumstance require us to be adaptable almost pioneering in change. We cannot be expected to know how trying to commit to a new working environment feels and the specific difficulties in attempting to keep going. A varying proportion of our condition is not changeable and we have to adapt our situation to facilitate our chronic pain condition.

    I am an avid supported of anyone wishing to work and in managing pain every day as many do here they already have the capacity to work if desired. We all need to give ourselves time to learn and adapt to new things, pain and working provides a unique set of circumstance and we all need sufficient support, guidance and encouragement.

    If you want to work, plan and be brave, have a go.


  • Cath you are a mind reader as always. When I stopped working last June it was because I couldn't handle working between the pain and the pain meds. The doctors were recommending another surgery to fix what went wrong in the first surgery so it seemed like the right answer.

    Fast forward 8 months there is no surgical or medication answer and the disability check just doesn't cut it. The job is gone so I am one of the millions of unemployed. But as some of you say how do you know if you can do the job and is it fair to take a job, train for it at the expense of the employer and then find out you can't do it?

    I've put out a few applications but my heart really isn't in it. I would really rather find something that I could do from home with some flexiblity. At least then when that really bad day like yesterday comes I can take something without a coworker wondering what's wrong with me.

    But I think I need to make a mental acceptance of this change to my life. Has anyone gone through this type of career/life style change? I'd love to hear how you did it.
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  • Kris NY

    The reality that a consecutive operation may not improve your condition in finding some relief and returning to normality, is a strength, it enables you to change to the new you, even though we would rather not have to adapt to those imposed changes.

    After my failed fusion in 91 my professor said this was my future and irrespective that I may not have wanted these imposed changes, that were going to happen irrespective of my consent or not. I had a physical job and understood that some dramatic career change would be needed, so that I could function with increasing restrictions over time.

    I do have that just do it attitude and watching all that career effort prior to surgery slip through my fingers is not easy, once you are the determinant of how you would like things to go, you feel more empowered that you are deciding your future, if we see change even difficult ones as a positive opportunity, then we are half way to reaching our goal. I sought support from a charity that caters for employees who have dedicated employment needs, within the range of chronic pain capability. In reality not everything we would like to do is now possible and we have to prioritise the new things that are important.

    Do you have any idea where those limitations are, I did some voluntary work so that I could monitor the whole working concept from starting on a bad day to committing past my functionality at times. I have to say that the economic climate now differs and seeking traditional employment with underlying chronic pain is a challenging idea and should be encouraged more than it is.

    Do you have any less pain because you stopped working and how good are your best days, as you say if you could determine that flexibility is may go some way in assessing what you can do now.

    I had three young children and the concept on not being able to work seemed inconceivable, on reflection I am now in charge, I no longer have to wait for other to determine my future, it focussed on what I needed to do to empower myself. I now have a job I love which was unimaginable in my historic existence, I only accept with a small a, sufficient to get the job done and no more, if I will even come to terms with constant pain is not the point, I am doing the best I can with what I have now and living my life.

    Pain has been a team event for me I have been supported at every stage and encouraged through all this change and adaptation, my belief is that if we can manage pain everyday and many here do, we already have sufficient capacity to make these changes, with appropriate support, encouragement and guidance.

    The key is to set realistic attainable goals within a timescale, monitor, evaluate and adapt going forward and believe that you can do this.

    Your future is what you make it.

    Take care and good luck.


  • While the answer maybe within, many do not know how to bring that answer out. It isn't as simple as looking within. For most getting help finding that answer is the better approach.

    In this country, at least, you can get help with occupational therapy. Kris if you are on unemployment you are most certainly a candidate. Given how bad the economy has gotten many have been forced out of their original job choice or trade. You had it happen for a physical issue. Regardless the process exists.

    One of my friends went through rehab this way. He has a whole new skill set. At first he resented giving up his original job. He could have stayed on disability. But the amount was no good and he had responsibilities. He had physical limitations too. He went back to work on this new trade part-time. Then slowly moved to full-time. He did that for a few years. Then re-invented himself again and now does something else. He's in his 50's and is happy and does nothing remotely close to what he trained a good portion of his life for.

    All of the help he got was from the state. Cost him nothing more than being willing to do something about his situation. It can be done.

    See what programs are available to you. Get some basic testing and evaluations done. The folks who do all that help people re-invent themselves all the time.

    Good luck.
  • RangerRRanger on da rangePosts: 1,033
    I do agree with Z06 and the idea of sometimes we must re-invent ourselves.
    And indeed there is help for people whether it be federal, state, county, and even city to help us change and adapt to the "new you." Just keep after it.
    People have suggested permanent disability for me several times as my career is considered at times physical & labor intense. I am also fortunate in the respect that I am self-employed and don't have to be concerned about
    meeting "flat-rate" to be profitable as a dealership has to meet to be solvent.
    So each an every one of us are different in our career challenges. I like to keep the attitude that no matter what life throws at me, I'm going to accept this challenge and meet it head on, I will get it done, whatever it takes.
    Take care all,
  • Cathie,

    I've mulled over several of the sample questions you put up! I do desk/computer work for a company that deals with 911 related services. I have to be on my "A" game every day to be able to deal with issues that come up with our products. So, with that in mind here are some of the issues I deal with daily:

    First and foremost, I must balance my use of meds and their side effects. I've been dealing with the chronic pain long enough that I have a pretty strict regimen that controls pain somewhat but leaves me able to do my job. Certainly not comfortably. Until my (very) recent permanent SCS implant, I was having difficulty working a 40 hour week. In fact I haven't worked a full week for several months. Without pay, as I used up my leave time a long time ago. The SCS is working so well, I expect to be able to work a 40 hour week and reduce my overall medication usage significantly. I believe it will give me much more time for the neuro doc to find a diagnosis. Woo Hoo!

    That brings me to the next: debating when I should go back to work post-op. The issues I am facing are not structural spine issues. I went three years getting injections, RF ablations, more injections, discograms, MRI's, etc, etc ad nauseum. My neurologist has finally found there is a nerve problem within my spinal cord somewhere in the lumbar region. Right now that's the best he can say. So from a surgical standpoint, I have not had any surgeries for vertebral or disc repairs because there's nothing to repair. The only surgery I've had was the SCS. Because of the leads it included a laminectomy and three surgical sites. I took two weeks off at the direction of my PM doc, which seemed to be okay at the time, and started back Sunday this week. I worked two days and had to take yesterday off because when sitting I was leaning directly on my surgical site and causing horrible muscle spasms. (Monday I even brought a pillow that helped me when I did the trial.) I'm having to evaluate where that magic line is now and may be reduced to an 8 hour workday limitation. (I work a mixture of 12, 10 and 8 hour shifts over 4 days in a week.) I'm pretty good at listening to what my body is telling me and I knew Monday morning that I was in trouble that day. Now I wonder if I shouldn't have taken a little more leave time.

    I'll mention that my commute is about an hour each way and my car has always been uncomfortable. Wasn't supposed to use the TENS while driving, which I did, and also not supposed to use the SCS, which I do. They are both helpful because the parathesia in my legs was aggrivated after about 30 seconds of driving.

    Finally, I have to say that my work is very supportive of my needs and the rest of my team is willing to cover for me any time I have issues. I am constantly reminded of this by my co-workers and management and that is very much a relief that I don't have to worry about that on top of everything else.
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