Returning to work after back surgery, or even an injury, is one of the most difficult and critical transitional times. When I first seriously injured my back, I just wanted my life back as it was before my accident. After my surgery, I miraculously went from painful limping, due to a seriously pinched nerve, to managed pain and walking normally. I breezed through physical therapy and actually returned to work two weeks early.
My goal was to return to work early enough to fly out to Chicago, to see a game at Wrigley Field, with a group of coworkers. I was so focused on this trip that I had not really considered the consequences of rushing. Because of my lack of priorities, I wound up relapsing three times. After making a few adjustments, I was soon back to living a normal life of pain-free living.
Start out at half time
The transition from hospital bed to full-time work is not seamless. Sitting is tough on the back. In addition, certain jobs, such as my customer service job, required being tied to a desk. After several setbacks, I found that by limiting my first week to four hours a day and with my doctor’s approval, I gradually built up to eight hours a day. In three weeks, I was back to working full-time and I was able to work without serious pain.
Adjust your desk
Most offices offer adjustable desks and chairs. I found that no matter what I did, the chair I used was still not very comfortable. Equipped with a doctor’s note, my office purchased a special chair that was custom adjusted for me. In addition, I purchased a small stool to rest my right foot. This footstool gave me additional comfort and support. These small changes made a huge difference!
Get up and move
Every hour, I make sure I get up and stretch and if possible, take a walk around the office. Getting water, dropping off a note to my boss or making copies, really helped stretch out my back. Even though my statistics required being available on the phone 90 percent of the time, I calculated three minutes every hour and I used this time to move. This helped my transition tremendously.
Go to part-time
I found that by Friday afternoon, I had to dig into my pills to deal with reoccurring pain that would last until Sunday morning, ruining my weekend. Yes, I could work eight-hour shifts, but that became the entire focus of my life. Yet, when I worked shorter days, I found that my pain was almost nonexistent and I could live a more normal life outside of work. In addition, with the extra two hours, I was able to find more time to include swimming in my daily routine, and I was rewarded with a pain-free back.
Keep your schedule open
Like everyone else dealing with chronic pain, I only wanted my life back. Yet, I found that if I worked all week and then had a very active weekend, my back pain became worse and my entire life had to stop, yet again, to deal with this problem. I found that keeping blocks of time open was key to keeping healthy. If I had a long plane ride, I made sure I was able to get in a workout and plenty of sleep the days before departure.
At work there were always high-calorie snacks and caffeinated beverages. Finding that balance of being social and eating right is key. Also, I kept fit by following an individualized program. I spoke with my physical therapist and we created a realistic daily workout plan. I soon added pool running, several yoga moves, and weight machines to my routine.