Best and Worst Jobs for People in Pain

On-the-job pain management starts with finding an occupation that meets your needs.

Going to work when you have chronic pain can be difficult or even impossible, depending on your job. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are less likely to be employed because of their pain, especially if their jobs are physically demanding.

If you have chronic pain and are in the workforce, it might be a good idea to find an occupation that is less physically demanding and allows you to work at your own pace. Here's Health's list of some of the best choices and some to avoid.

01 of 16

Try Being an Administrative Assistant

Sitting at a desk all day is not ideal for someone with painful joints. Working as an administrative assistant, however, could have its benefits. You may not have to perform a lot of repetitive movements except for typing. Depending on the company, the role could come with some flexibility—it's important to be able to move around when you need to and take breaks as necessary.

02 of 16

Avoid Landscaping

If you have back or joint pain, try to avoid working as a landscaper. Landscaping tasks like pruning that involve frequent use of hand tools can cause pain in the small joints.

Landscaping also requires a lot of bending, stooping over, and kneeling, which can cause pain in joints, particularly the knees. Finally, it also involves lifting and hauling, sometimes in wheelbarrows, which can cause back pain.

03 of 16

Try Being an Accountant

Amy Beamer, a 38-year-old from Tampa, Fla., has had rheumatoid arthritis for a decade. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by trade, she found accounting to be a manageable career, even when her arthritis got more aggressive.

Beamer did find, however, that stress could trigger flare-ups. She used to travel and work long hours but was able to cut back to four days a week and avoid high-stress situations. An understanding employer and flexible work hours have allowed her to continue to work. "You don't have to stop working, but sometimes you just can't do the things you used to do," said Beamer.

04 of 16

Avoid Being a Truck Driver

This job tends to be a poor choice for someone with chronic pain. Whether driving long or short distances, a truck driver is trapped in a seat for long periods, putting pressure on the back. There is little time to move around and stretch painful joints.

Truck drivers have some of the highest rates of back pain, Scott Bautch, DC, chiropractor at Bautch Chiropractic and former CEO for Allied Health Chiropractic Centers in Wisconsin, told Health. Because of the lack of movement and potentially unusual hours, truck drivers often have difficulty sleeping—which can be especially bad for people with rheumatoid arthritis who are at risk for fatigue.

05 of 16

Try Being a Lawyer or Engineer

How comfortable these jobs are for people with chronic pain depends on the specialty.

Many forms of law and engineering could be excellent choices for someone with chronic pain. Both occupations tend to offer benefits and potentially flexible scheduling. They don't typically require repetitive movements and would likely allow you to move around when you need to and take breaks as necessary.

However, being a trial lawyer, who may need to be confined to a seat for days on end, could worsen your chronic pain. Similarly, being a structural engineer, who may have to climb around in buildings, might also be a poor fit.

06 of 16

Avoid Manufacturing

For two reasons, manufacturing jobs tend to be poor choices: They can require repetitive movements and you spend long periods standing (or sitting) in one place. Neither of these is good for people living with chronic pain.

And, if you're on an assembly line, you probably don't have much control over your breaks or the ability to rest your muscles as needed.

07 of 16

Try Being Self-Employed

While working for yourself has a couple of drawbacks—potentially unsteady pay and lack of health insurance—if you can overcome these issues, self-employment or contract work is a great answer for someone with chronic pain. Ashley Boynes Shuck, a 29-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa., who has rheumatoid arthritis, told Health she is much healthier since she quit full-time work to be a contractor in public relations and social media.

"I feel so much better physically," said Shuck. "It allows rest and the ability to exercise more and my stress levels are so much less. Working full time was difficult physically and emotionally—if you can do something to make it easier on yourself, you have to do it."

08 of 16

Avoid Being an Elementary School Teacher

Teaching younger children can be hard on the body. Teachers have high rates of back pain because they spend so much time on their feet, said Bautch.

What's more, grade-school teachers may need to constantly tie shoes and pick up toys and books off of the floor.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and want to teach, aim to instruct older students to avoid the bending and lifting that's more common with younger children.

09 of 16

Try Working at a Nonprofit

In order to connect with people who have similar challenges, many people with chronic illnesses reach out to local associations that advocate for their conditions. For some, this can be gratifying work.

Nonprofit organizations are often more laid back than traditional corporations and may be more likely to understand your physical challenges, particularly if they relate to the organization's mission. Shuck works with the Arthritis Foundation and remarked that giving back is rewarding.

"Studies have shown that philanthropy can make you feel better," said Shuck. A 2014 study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found a positive relationship between giving and happiness in 120 out of 136 countries. "You can help others instead of focusing on your own problems and pain. If you have to live with an illness, it is nice to use it for something good," continued Shuck.

10 of 16

Avoid Working in Healthcare

Most healthcare jobs are not good choices for people with chronic pain. They bring high stress, long hours, and lots of time on your feet. Some of these jobs are particularly difficult, including working in nursing homes, home health, or physical therapy.

These professionals spend a lot of time on their feet, and the jobs can entail a lot of bending, lifting, and moving patients in awkward positions. This could affect not only the back but also many other joints.

11 of 16

Try Being a Software Engineer

This occupation can be stressful and entail a lot of sitting. However, many employers in the industry are progressive. This may mean a more flexible schedule than other desk jobs, and the ability to get a standing desk and time to move around when you need it. These are often well-paying positions and come with benefits.

12 of 16

Avoid Construction

Construction is one of the occupations that can cause the most pain. Among construction workers, specialists like roofers and sheetrock installers can have some of the worst problems. Not only do they lift all day, but their work is repetitive, which can cause pain and flare-ups in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

"Specialists like sheetrockers have more injuries than generalists do," said Bautch. "These aren't jobs that people with chronic pain or RA are probably going to be in."

13 of 16

Try Being an Editor/Writer

As long as your hands can deal with typing, this could be an ideal job for someone with chronic pain. As a freelance writer, you can work from home and have a flexible schedule to fit in appointments, exercise, and sleep.

If you're in an office, you'll likely have some ability to make your workspace comfortable and move around as needed. Take a few minutes an hour to step away from the computer screen; frequent breaks can help prevent problems.

14 of 16

Avoid Working in Retail

Most forms of retail are bad for people with chronic pain. Not only do you spend most of your time on your feet, but if you have to stock products or bag groceries, you'll also spend your day reaching, turning, and lifting, Bautch said. These repetitive movements can exacerbate painful symptoms.

15 of 16

Avoid Working in the Food Industry

There are few careers in the food industry that are suitable for people with chronic pain. Careers that do not require a great deal of physical activity or call for long periods of standing, and walking are good options. Such careers include sales representative, consultant, or food blogger.

However, some jobs in food are probably best avoided. Working in a food processing plant is one of those, Bautch said. People in this industry deal with high temperatures, repetitive motion, and prolonged standing.

Working in a restaurant setting can often be just as bad. A lot of time on your feet and lifting plates and trays could exacerbate your symptoms.

16 of 16

Avoid Working as an Auto Mechanic

Being an auto mechanic is another job that is likely to cause back pain. Using tools like wrenches and screwdrivers can be nearly impossible for people with conditions like RA that affect the hands.

Mechanics also work in awkward positions all day—bending to work under car hoods and sliding around under cars, making it a less-than-ideal job choice if you have chronic pain.

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  1. Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 41–47. doi:10.1177/0963721413512503

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