Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Lower Back Pain at Work


bosnia mapI get a ton of questions about accidents and injuries at work.

If you have an accident — or you are truly injured at work — you should seek help and get your local HR representative involved. Safety is no joke.

But let me tell you a story.

I once worked with a guy named Luka Pejanovic. He was an immigrant from Bosnia. He was stabbed in the shoulder and the back during the Bosnian War by his cousin’s husband who is a Serb.

(Families are messed up, of course, but they were really messed up during that war.)

Anyway, Luka immigrated to America. He made his way to Chicago and worked in the mail room of an insurance company. Underwriters and actuaries take great joy in killing trees, so his job was pretty secure. Luka delivered mail, boxes and faxes. He lifted big packages off trucks. He was up and down ten flights of stairs all day long.

When he had free time, he ran errands in the West Loop.

Luka was a pretty fabulous guy from a Human Resources perspective. No trouble. No whining. He didn’t come to America to work in a mail room, but it was better than some of his friends and family who came to this country in the late ’90s and settled into depressing factory jobs.

One day, Luka was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I was able to see a tattoo. The tattoo led up to the edge of one of his scars, which was pretty gross. I asked him if it still hurt.

He said, “Only when I’m awake.”


Luka is now my gold standard of bullshit at work, especially when it comes to carpal tunnel and lower back pain claims. Whenever someone in a Jos A Banks suit or an Ann Taylor sweater complains about a repetitive stress injury or an ergonomic issue, it’s hard not to roll my eyes. I wonder: Who handles the workers compensation claims for the tens of thousands of men and women who are really injured at work, each year, but never feel entitled or privileged to complain about it?

And what about the guy in the mail room who lives with ongoing pain because he was stabbed in a war? Where is his ergonomic consultant?

I would never tell someone to overlook an injury at work. But I do tell people — who have means, health insurance and don’t have a neurological disorder — that pain is a spectrum and a continuum. If you are over the age of 25, your body probably hurts. Welcome to being alive. And your local HR representative can’t do anything that a good yoga class can’t do.

And pain can also be a distraction and an obsession. If you are in pain, you are thinking about something superficial instead of the complexities of your life. If you are in pain, you have something to talk about. And if you are in pain, it is easy to forget about everyone else and focus on yourself.

So if you haven’t been stabbed in the shoulder by a Serbian in-law, it is time to stop talking about your chronic pain and start doing something about it. Your ongoing health issues are yours to manage. It isn’t the job of your local HR manager to modify your office desk because you are too lazy and selfish to address your personal and private matters.

Get on it.  There is no ergonomic consultant on his way to help you. It’s on you.

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