Your Pain Care Plan to Occupational Pain Management
By Amanda Trout, D.O.
Here in Texas, there are a lot of industries and occupations where work/life balance conflicts because of occupational pain. Many people work on their feet all day and don’t know that even standing the wrong way could make them more prone to having pain interact with their ability to work.
At APC, we have a variety of Occupational Pain Management solutions for these issues, but we first have to identify how each unique patient will interact with certain pain care plans. Firstly, a quick definition: Occupational Pain Management is the treatment of pain that arises from tasks you perform in your job or occupation. It can be from something as severe as hurting your back from lifting a heavy package, or something as “harmless” as sitting at your computer for 8 hours straight.
How common are occupational pain care plans for your patients at APC?
We work on occupational pain care plans pretty frequently.
Some patients are currently working in the occupation that’s giving them pain, and some are retired but are dealing with pain from the occupation they had years ago.
The frequency of occupational pain care patients also depends on where the clinic is located. Out here in Amarillo, we see a lot of ranchers who do rodeo, which of course deals with big animals and heavy lifting. We also work with a lot of patients who work in oil fields, meatpacking plants, and motor industries, but it’s not limited to occupations that involve heavy lifting.
Sure, anyone who’s working with lots of heavy objects is at-risk, but even occupations that require repetitive tasks and movements, no matter how minimal they might be, are prone to need occupational pain management.
When we’re examining what’s causing the pain, we see occupational pain care patients who are dealing not only with lots of lifting but lots of standing. Think of construction workers; their injuries could certainly come from lifting beams and heavy wood, but it could just as equally come from spending hours a day on hard concrete make for a bigger need for pain management than one might think.
A lot of times, these injuries can be prevented from simply knowing how to use your muscles right. Understanding the basic ways that we can protect our bodies like having a slight bend in our knees when standing or lifting from our legs and not from our backs could be the difference between needing a pain care plan and not.
When we think of work in the post-COVID world, with many remote workers spending hours upon hours sitting, we predict our cases to go up quite a bit. Just because we’re not seeing too many clients come for pain care from sitting all day doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. Typically, people will try to wait for at least six months before even considering coming in, so even though we’re not seeing an uptick of patients coming from this situation doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Do patients ever have issues getting an occupational pain care plan?
You’d think that if someone is experiencing pain, they’d be able to come straight to a clinic to get help, but it isn’t always the case. There are a few different issues that are important to consider on our side when thinking of our patients. The first one comes a lot in industries like the construction industry. I’ve seen many workers who feel looked down upon by their company if they start to experience pain as if they’re useless to their team without their ability to move properly. In this light, many will resist finding a pain care plan because they don’t want to be seen as weak or incompetent by their team. They’ll oftentimes try to ignore it until the pain gets so severe that it’s impossible to ignore.
Another issue is that some people just can’t afford to see a pain management clinic. They’re either working a job that doesn’t give them insurance, or one that has a very minimal insurance plan that doesn’t cover all their visits. They’ll even know that they can’t afford to miss a shift to go to the doctor, spending more money for their appointment but making less money from their time off. This is common with movers, delivery drivers, and other part-time or contract workers who don’t have the flexibility of paid time off. Others are under workers’ comp, which doesn’t cover many injuries at all.
Then there’s the issue of patients simply not knowing about pain management, who’ll go straight to their primary care physician to see help without knowing that clinics like APC have a vast amount of options for them and have so many different ways to treat them. Other clinics might have a couple of options but will force you to jump through hoops to find a specialist, draining them of their energy and leaving them feeling hopeless that they’ll never connect with a doctor who can truly help them.
When do you know that you need to seek help for occupational pain management?
When a patient is having pain so badly that they’re focused more on their pain than on their work, it’s no longer something they can ignore. For example, if a patient is having back pain that’s going into their leg to the point where they can’t comfortably sit or stand anymore, it’s time to seek help. Of course, it’s best to address the pain at the beginning of the source, but many times people want to try to find their own solutions before scheduling an appointment. Emergency situations look more like numbness or weakness in any part of the body; it’s especially important for these patients to seek help immediately.
Most commonly, I’ll see the pain in the back, the shoulders, and the knees. I believe a lot of this is due to lifting heavy objects incorrectly, with their back instead of with their legs. A lot of people try to bite off more than they can chew; lift a couple of extra pounds over what they typically carry so they don’t have to make two trips or try to overwork to show their dedication to a job that might not be asking them to overwork.
What’s the process of working with an occupational pain care patient?
We’ll typically start by getting baselining imaging so we can see what’s going on. If the pain or injury doesn’t look like it needs surgery, our next step is rehab, so we can help our patients retrain their muscles to protect themselves in the future when they get back to full movement. Sometimes, we’ll utilize occupational therapy that’s primarily focused on job duties to help train muscles to work smartly, and sometimes we’ll do physical therapy.
We’ve found that most young people prefer rehab because they’re keen on getting back to work quickly. Another thing we’ve found with young patients is that they’re strong at identifying their pain quickly because they’re determined to get to the bottom of their issues so they can get back into working.
How can you prevent injuries at work?
It seems simple, but if a task you’re doing hurts, you probably shouldn’t do it. What some are surprised about is that a lot of the training that we provide focuses on protecting the core, since it’s the center point of where strength is held to protect the rest of the body.
When you’re lifting, for example, using your legs instead of your back and stabilizing your core, so the weight is going to the right place, and not a place that can’t hold it. There are also simple solutions like asking for help if you’re lifting something heavy.
Most of these simple pieces of knowledge can help keep you from needing pain care, but if you do end up feeling pain, it’s important to get it treated early. If you notice something is starting to hurt, pay attention to it and don’t make it worse.
Repetitive injuries could take months to develop, and sometimes if you hurt something bad, like a herniated disc, you’ll feel it right away. Typically, your body will start to tell you in a few months if something’s wrong, but if you don’t address it, it could start to get worse over several months or even several years.
The severity of it depends on how long you let it go. The longer you wait, the more it could potentially become more severe, so it’s important to find a clinic that can give you a proper pain care plan so you can get back to doing what you’re doing.
The Advanced Pain Care Difference
Here at APC, we’re always working to resolve pain through rehab as opposed to invasive surgery. Any solution we can find that avoids invasive surgery, we’ll try.
Everyone heals and reacts differently. We’ve had wonderful stories where patients coming from strenuous jobs did extremely well in rehab, to the point where they didn’t need any additional pain care plans. We’ve also had patients who react differently with rehab as well as injections, but as soon as we take them into surgery, they’re back at work, holding their kids, and doing what they want to be doing. We’ve also had patients who’ve had great luck with the spine stimulator being put in. Each situation depends on the patient’s particular pain care plan.
What I love about Advanced Pain Care is most of the pain care needs are all within the same building, so we can get our patients the care they need without needing to schedule them with an outside doctor, transferring documents, and letting the delay in appointments affect their ability to do their jobs.
If you’re feeling like your job is affecting your ability to have a pain-free experience, schedule an appointment here at Advanced Pain Care. It’s best to catch things early before symptoms get more severe, and having access to a variety of different specialists under one roof is one of the things that makes us most proud to help patients.