Should I be working if I still have chronic pain?

A lot of employers tell their employees who are injured not to return to work until they are 100% better. That is generally a good advise, however, it does not work well for patients with chronic pain whose recovery may take years or decades. Having a job is very important for our self esteem as well as financial wellbeing.

Also rest helps patients recover from an injury only during the first few months. Resting longer than that does not lead to additional healing or recovery. Unfortunately, imaging tests such as MRI scans, Xray and ultrasound scans can not be used to determine how long a patient will be off work after an injury.

Because of these considerations, I usually encourage patients to return to work within 3 months of the injury even if they are not feeling 100% better. Obviously chances for successful return to work are higher if employer is willing to be flexible and offer graduated hours, light duties or even work from home. For jobs that are physically demanding or involve high risk of injury often successful return to work is not possible. If patients are unable to return to work after 1 year, I encourage them to try finding or retraining for a different line of work, preferably with fewer physical demands and more flexibility in terms of hours of work. Ideally these jobs would not involve repetitive activity and allow the patient to change position if necessary while working.