Working with Fibromyalgia

Doing a job when you have a chronic pain condition can be mentally exhausting and physically taxing. And because fibromyalgia is so variable, it's difficult to know exactly how your condition will influence your function on the job.

If your case is mild, it may have no impact on your ability to work. If your job is physically demanding, you may experience some limitations. And if you have a severe case of fibromyalgia, you may have difficulty working at all.

Certain tasks in particular seem to aggravate fibro symptoms. A study involving 321 fibromyalgia patients found that some tasks were especially difficult, such as computer work or typing, prolonged sitting, prolonged standing and walking, heavy lifting and bending, and repeated moving and lifting.

On the other hand, certain activities seemed less likely to worsen fibro symptoms, including walking, variable light sedentary work, teaching, light desk work, and phone work. It appears that people with fibromyalgia fare best in jobs with tasks that are varied and allow for changes in position.

Fact

If you work alone handling information such as reports, proposals, data, or research, you may be a prime candidate for telecommuting. As of 2004, there were an estimated 44.4 million telecommuters in the United States, according to a survey by the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC).

For some people, simply getting up and going to a job can be exhausting. Take Joy, a security manager who has been battling fibromyalgia for three years.

Joy knows she would be better off physically if she didn't work. Her job is stressful, and on nights when she doesn't sleep well, Joy feels lousy in the morning. “I know I should sleep longer in the morning to replenish my body but I don't because I really can't,” she says. “At work, all I want to do is lie down and sleep for an hour because I'm exhausted.” Joy knows she is constantly pushing herself when she should be resting more. And quitting is not an option, because she needs the income and worries she'll get depressed.

Like any person with fibromyalgia, Joy needs to find ways of doing her job that are less stressful. Granted, some things, such as her hours, may be difficult to change. But maybe she can find time to sneak in a ten-minute nap.

To help you resolve difficulties at your job, start by figuring out what exactly is making it hard to work. Everyone is different, and what makes one FMS patient uncomfortable may not necessarily affect another person. Once you identify these challenges, you can work toward identifying solutions.

Here are some work-related issues that can often exacerbate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, along with some possible solutions to the problems:

  • Repetitive tasks for prolonged periods — Look for opportunities to take short breaks to stretch or relax. Try to alternate the repetitive tasks with other responsibilities in order to break up the repetition.

  • One position for extended periods of time — Make a conscious effort to switch positions every few minutes. If you are required to sit, try standing. If you're forced to stand, take time to sit.

  • A high-stress work environment — Practice relaxation exercises throughout the day. Deep breaths, guided imagery, and short periods of meditation can help you escape the stress of the moment.

  • Computer work that strains your neck, shoulders, and/or back — Enlist an ergonomics specialist to check the positioning of items at your workstation. Make sure everything is at the right height to minimize strain.

If you do a lot of typing on the job, consider trying voice-recognition software. There are a number of computer programs that can automatically transcribe dictation for you. If your job allows it, try one of these programs to cut back on your typing duties. It can save a lot of time, as well as the wear and tear on your hands, arms, and shoulders.

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