Living with chronic pain can be a right pain in the neck, especially when it stops you from doing the things you love. Following almost two years of makeshift desk setups and COVID-19 restrictions limiting treatment, the number of people living with pain has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
As companies start to welcome employees back to the office in line with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest easing of restrictions, many say they are planning to embrace a hybrid model of home and office working – meaning more attention will have to be paid to implementing at-home workstations to avoid the worsening of any associated neck and back troubles. With 40% of people currently not spending any money on pain treatments, there is potential for the situation to become a national issue.
Over one-third of the UK population is already struggling with chronic pain. To explore the potential causes in more detail, we looked at the professions that are most likely to result in problems and in which areas of the body are affected.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people had to adapt to remote working conditions, and some of the ‘temporary’ setups and workarounds have most definitely led to poor ergonomics. Working at a desk is one of the most common causes of neck pain, as office workers and administration staff often accommodate their workstation rather than the other way around. Straining to see a computer monitor that is too far away, too low, too high or too dim can compromise good posture.
While remote working can be considered ‘the dream’ for some, the majority of people won’t have the luxury of space or a posture-friendly desk and office chair readily available – especially younger generations. Although it can be very tempting to curl up on the sofa in your pyjamas while you work, those that have adopted this more ‘comfortable’ working position could have caused themselves more issues than they realise!
As working from home becomes much more common, it is important to remember that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure their employees’ working environment is up to scratch and that they are healthy and safe.
Unsurprisingly, the most common professions that result in chronic back pain are those that involve a lot of repeated movement and heavy lifting, such as construction and warehouse workers. However, what you may not realise is that nurses and healthcare workers also have an increasingly high risk of developing back problems. Think of all the lifting, bending, and transporting nursing home workers do in order to tend to patients.
Nurses also spend long hours of the day on their feet. Standing for long periods can lead to postural issues, as the muscles become too tired to keep you upright. When you stop to think about how much heavier that workload has been for our healthcare professions during the past year, it’s less surprising to hear that 70 per cent of nurses will have at least one episode of back pain per year.
Professions that also require a lot of time on your feet are hairdressers, cabin crew, retail, and food service workers. While a job that keeps you on your feet may sound healthier than sitting at a desk all day, standing and walking for too long can be just as detrimental to your physical health. Even with the most comfortable pair of shoes, being on your feet all day will still cause problems in the long run.
Many of these workers are prone to leaning on one dominant side, putting even more pressure on the ankle and foot, and rarely do they get a chance to sit down. While many professions can be hard on your feet, taking the right steps to treat pain can prevent bigger issues.
In a surprising twist of fate, working in dentistry actually poses a higher risk of temporomandibular disorders (TMD) and bruxism, along with those who work in the high-tech sectors. TMD and bruxism are caused by the constant grinding or clenching of the teeth and are most commonly associated with stress and anxiety. This can cause a tightening of the facial muscles, meaning those roles that require high levels of concentration or are stress-inducing can often result in severe and long-lasting pain in the face.
Constant movement of the jaw can also often result in TMD, meaning those that work in roles that require a lot of speaking – for example, call centre workers – are also prone to suffering pain.
The two joints most commonly operated on in the UK are the knees and hips, with an average of over 150,000 operations combined every year. Professions that require a lot of kneeling and squatting are where you’re most likely to find damage to the knees, including carpenters, bricklayers and farm workers – and, more surprisingly, unpaid houseworkers! Those who are dedicated housewives or househusbands face up to 93% increased odds for knee osteoarthritis.
Those that are incredibly active, such as athletes or dancers, are most at risk of developing hip pain due to overuse and stressing joints beyond their limits. Trauma can often be caused by heavy impact, affecting those who play a lot of high-impact sports.
As the name suggests, injuries to the elbow are often associated with playing tennis. However, any profession that involves repetitive motions of the arm is likely to develop tennis elbow. One of the more obvious roles would be a painter and decorator, who is repeatedly shifting the arm backwards and forwards.
Butchers, chefs and cooks also need to be cautious, as cutting up ingredients (particularly meat) can cause strain on the arm muscles.
Repetitive movement is one of the biggest contributors to any kind of pain, but those who need to continually grip something, move their wrists awkwardly, or work with vibration are extremely likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. The occupations associated with CTS tend to be musicians, due to complex twisting movements, and textile workers, who deal with heavy vibrations from machinery and pressure on the hands for long periods of time.
It’s clear from the various ailments mentioned that there is no right or wrong industry to work in, but whichever career path you choose to follow, you should be aware of the potential risks and strains. Complete prevention is not always possible but treating and managing any chronic pain issues is vital to being able to continue day-to-day life without interference or discomfort, as well as restricting any development into bigger issues such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.