Preventing chronic pain from impacting retail employees
Preventing chronic pain from impacting retail employees
December 2nd, 2019 by Min-Jee Hwang

Michelle is a 26 year old pharmacist at one of the largest pharmacy retail chains in America. Despite her young age, she began to experience chronic knee pain 2 years ago from working 7-12 hour shifts on her feet, 4-5 days a week. Working in a very fast-paced environment, it was difficult to take long breaks to sit down. Her pain grew worse over time. As soon as she got off work, she would have to sit down on her couch and massage her knees because she was in so much pain. Michelle started to avoid any activities that involved being on her feet, even something as simple as a short walk down the block. Previously an avid hiker and active gym member, now she no longer found joy from activities that required her to stand or walk.

“It definitely took a toll on me. It made me feel down on myself because I didn’t want to do anything else but work and come home.”

Michelle’s case isn’t unique. 1 in 2 people suffer from musculoskeletal (MSK) pain in the US - many of them working in the retail industry. While MSK pain doesn’t discriminate, it can be common in retail workforces due to the nature of the job and difficulty in accessing best-practice care.

Why is chronic pain so common in the retail industry?

We’ve all heard that sitting for too long is bad for your health, but standing for too long can be just as hard on your body. Retail industry workers, like Michele, can be on their feet all day. Long shifts mean that fatigue can set in and cause weight to shift unevenly on knees, putting more pressure on them. In a fast-paced environment dealing with a high volume of customers, it can be difficult to make time to take regular sitting breaks. This puts retail workers at high risk for MSK pain.

In addition, long, irregular shifts can often be a barrier to accessing recommended conservative care. For example, physical therapy can be challenging to fit into retail workers’ schedules. For at-home regimens, research suggests that as few as 35 percent of physical therapy patients adhere to what’s recommended by their physical therapist. This is because behavior is difficult to change, and many workers face time constraints, lack the motivation, or simply forget.

Pain leads to avoidance behavior which makes pain worse

As her pain got worse, Michelle started to avoid activities that she once enjoyed out of fear of exacerbating her pain. This is extremely common for those suffering from chronic pain, and many buy in to the common myth that “rest is best”. They slowly take on more and more sedentary lifestyles to try to avoid pain. But, the reality is that this can actually make pain worse. Movement lubricates the joints and while you may feel some pain, it doesn’t mean you are causing any harm to yourself. Over time, you will find that movement actually improves your pain in the long term.

When people with chronic pain avoid physical activity, it can often lead to isolation and avoidance of social activity, which can impact mental health. Pain and depression are very connected in regards to chronic MSK pain. Depression has been shown to increase the severity and intensity of pain, and chronic MSK pain increases the risk for depression. This feedback loop is known as the depression-pain dyad. Of people who have chronic pain, an average of 27% will experience depression compared to 5–10% of people without chronic pain. In addition, people with both chronic pain and depression can feel unmotivated to move, which makes their pain worse due to lack of movement.

How a digital care program helps retail workers in pain

Michelle heard that Hinge Health was being offered as a benefit at work, and while initially skeptical that anything could help resolve her pain, decided to give it a try. While some things, such as her work environment, were out of her control, her health coach helped her take control of the things that she could - finding time and motivation for self-care despite her busy schedule.

“This program has helped me regain my health and take control of my life.”

Educational articles helped her understand why movement is medicine, and the remote exercise therapy was easy to integrate into her routine. Now that she’s back to a more active lifestyle, she has lost over 30 pounds since starting the program, which is a huge deal when you consider that every extra pound of body weight is 4 extra pounds of pressure on your knee.

Hinge Health provides the 3 pillars of best-practice care: exercise therapy, interactive education and behavioral health with unlimited 1-on-1 health coaching, which are needed to achieve clinically proven better long-term outcomes. Michelle is now completely pain free, and she’s not the only one at her company that has experienced life-changing outcomes.

To learn more about how Hinge Health is helping retailers solve chronic pain in their workforces, download the case study.

References:

Bair MJ, Robinson RL, Katon W, Kroenke K. Depression and Pain Comorbidity; A Literature Review. Arch Intern Med. 2003; 163(20): 2433–2445. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.20.2433.

Jon Rizzo (2015) Patients’ mental models and adherence to outpatient physical therapy home exercise programs, Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 31:4, 253-259, DOI: 10.3109/09593985.2014.1003117

Stucchi G, Battevi N, Cairoli S, Consonni D. The prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders in the retail sector: an Italian cross sectional study on 3380 workers. La Medicina del Lavoro. 2016 Jul;107(4):251-262.

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