The ability to work is a really important factor in our wellbeing. Evidence tells us that being in work is good for your physical and emotional health.

Working with MSK problems

The ability to work is a really important factor in our wellbeing. Evidence tells us that being in work is good for your physical and emotional health.

The pain or fatigue that can be caused by problems with bones, muscles and joints can make working life challenging.  The truth is that most adults will experience musculoskeletal pain during their working life however, if these problems are identified and people are provided advice and reassurance early, they should not result in time off work.

Many people think that they need to be 100% better or ‘pain free’ before they return to work. With most bone, muscle and joint conditions, this is not the case. Attending work is important as part of rehabilitation and recovery and there are things that you can think about to support you to remain in work.

Here are some things to consider if you have a problem with your muscles, bones or joints that are having an impact on your working life:

Speak to your manager

If you are having problems, talk to your manager about the things that you are finding hard to see if there are different ways you could work using ‘reasonable adjustments’ and that you have all necessary equipment and are using it properly. The earlier you speak to your employers, the faster they can discuss the problem and if necessary, put in place modifications that could help you. Modifications to your work could include things like:

  • Changing working hours, break times or working location
  • Changing some working tasks
  • Using specific equipment and/or furniture to help you in your work
  • Allowing time to attend health related appointments for rehabilitation

If you have been off work for a while, it will help to return to work gradually over a period of time to gradually phase in all of the activities you need to do as part of your role. Phased return usually last 2-6 weeks but will depend on your employers’ policies.

Stay active

In the past, people used to rest at home when they had a musculoskeletal problem like a bad back.  What research has shown is that this is not helpful to your recovery. Often people feel worse because of the effect of reduced activity has on the body – stiff joints and weaker muscles.

What we encourage now is for people to use ‘active rest’.

Following an injury or flare up of a long term condition, you may not be able to work or exercise at your usual level straight away. This does not mean that you should stop moving.  Here are some ideas about how you could consider active rest:

  • Get up and move regularly – set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you if necessary
  • Try to be active a little and often e.g. short walks on a daily basis rather than a longer walk every other day
  • Keep doing as many chores in the house as you can but plan in advance and break them up into smaller tasks
  • Try a less intense activity e.g. yoga, tai chi or swimming rather than running, climbing or tennis
  • Try a walking meeting instead of sitting at a desk or in a meeting room
  • Change your activity by rotating your tasks. Don’t do a lot of the same activity to ‘get it out of the way’ but mix it with another activity you need to do

What can I do to help myself? – Get advice

It is fantastic that you are reading this as it means that you are already invested in helping yourself to recover.  Use the information in this website to guide you.  Should you have any questions or your problem isn’t improving, please contact the therapy services via self-referral process.
Step two explains the factors that may be contributing to your situation.
Step three explains self-management advice on what you can do to help yourself.

Signposting / additional information:

Mental Health & Well Being:

Health & Work in Wales:

Access to Work:

Blue Badge scheme:

Job centre:

If you have a health condition or a disability that affects your ability to work, you can get assistance and advice on returning to the workplace by speaking to a Work Coach at your local Jobcentre Plus.

The Work Coach may refer to the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) or Employment Adviser (EA) Whether you have just lost your job, been out of work for a long time, or need support to remain in work, and you have a health condition or disability the DEAs and EAs are trained to be able to help you.

Adjustment Passport:

Personal Independence Payment (PIP):

Reasonable Adjustments:

Citizens Advice:

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy – Staying Healthy at Work

Royal Society of Occupational Therapy Managing Well at Work information leaflet

Versus Arthritis – Work. How can I get the right support?

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society – I want to work

National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society – Guide to managing your axial SpA at work

Ehlers-Danlos Support UK – Employment Advice

Lupus UK – Working with Lupus