Am I ready to return to work?

Going back to work

Going back to work after a painful injury or illness can be exciting and scary. Dealing with pain can be a process, and going back to work is often a process as well. While you may be able to do your job again, you can’t expect to jump right in as if you had been there the day before. Slow and steady is usually the best way to go, of course with the recommendations of your healthcare provider. Those around you will usually be more than happy to help in any way that they can. Allow yourself extra time getting to work your first week, and keep the week light in terms of family responsibilities and social events.

Are you ready physically?

Often the body heals more quickly than the mind. You may feel physically well enough to return to work, but it may take your head a little bit longer to feel completely present in the day-to-day responsibilities at work and home, especially if you’re scared about feeling pain. If you had surgery and were out of work for a few weeks to months, you may be fine with the physicality of desk work and going to meetings. It may be more of a transition to more strenuous activities. In a few months much can change, and adapting mentally may take more time than adapting physically. If your job is more physical physically demanding, as with crossing guards and contractors, you may need a back support belt, for example, or extra breaks. Be sure to get what you need with the guidance of your healthcare professional.

Talking with your healthcare provider about returning to work

Whether or not you are able to return to work is a joint decision-making process between you and your healthcare provider. Your provider should give you adequate time to discuss any healthcare concerns. If you are concerned about not getting to address everything, make a list of things you would like to discuss and take it with you to your medical appointment. Be reasonable about your expectations, personally and professionally. For example, if you had back surgery, doing a marathon 3 months post-op may not be realistic. Look at your baseline functioning, and don’t try to take on too much too soon. Ask yourself questions like: Am I improving? Am I staying the same? Are there reasonable accommodations that can be made at work to ease my transition?


Handling the day to day, at work and at home

You need to be upfront and clear with family and friends on what you are able to do and what you need help with. Fortunately and unfortunately, people get wrapped up in their own lives. Plain and simple, the best way to let someone know what you need is to tell him or her. If your condition will affect you on some level when you return to work, you may need to contact human resources if you need a special chair or any special equipment in order to do your job.

The role of your family and support network

Ultimately it is between you and your healthcare provider regarding the decision that you are able to return to work. If you feel that you are ready, and your healthcare provider feel that you are ready, your family and support network should support the decision as well. Only you know how you feel, what you can handle, and what you’re capable of. It is important to be true to yourself regarding what you can handle and what you can’t. Whether or not you are able to make a full recovery, your family and support network is crucial to your progress. If you aren’t getting the support that you need, speak up.

Communication and getting back to your life

During this period, as with when you were recovering from your pain, it is most important to take care of yourself and to let those around you know what you need. If you don’t get better, you won’t be able to get back to your pre-pain life. This is a time when communication and sharing feelings are most important. There will be family, friends and employers who will come through for you in the way that you need.



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Brody, Jane. (2007). Chronic Pain: A Burden Often Shared. Retrieved from


Rope, Kate. (2008). How to talk to your doctor about chronic pain. Retrieved from