Why the rise of workplace leisure benefits the chronic pain community

Key points to remember

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers dressed more casually if they worked from home.
  • Wearing less restrictive clothing in areas where people have chronic pain can be more comfortable and help manage pain.
  • Flexible dress codes can allow people with chronic pain to dress in a way that best suits their condition.

As Katherine Lucas McKay returns to work in person, she hopes for a major change for the company: the acceptance of leisure at work.

McKay, while juggling his job, must also find ways to deal with his chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia and the lingering effects of thyroid cancer. Casual, comfortable clothing and flexible dress codes can help.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment, depression, environmental sensitivities, and digestive symptoms.

“I will definitely be in a dressier fashion for the foreseeable future, like fewer blouses and more comfortable, understated, soft black t-shirts,” Verywell McKay, who works as a research program manager at a policy institute, told Verywell McKay. of Washington, DC. “The freedom that this adds to people who benefit a lot from the opportunity to be dressed better is great. ”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people adopted a more comfortable look while working from home. For some people with chronic pain, this change has been a relief, as casual clothing can help people cope with physical pain. But not all businesses change permanently. Some may expect dress codes to resume their usual activities.

Dress for comfort when you have chronic pain

Even though dress codes probably don’t go out the window, there are always changes people can make to their wardrobes.

A person with endometriosis or Crohn’s disease, for example, may feel more comfortable wearing pants that are not tight around the waist because of the inflammation associated with their condition.

“When we are in pain, our brain focuses on this area and becomes the center of our attention,” Shamin Ladhani, PsyD, pain psychologist told Verywell. “Anything that’s in this area that’s obstructing it, anything that we can control, we want to control. ”

This includes wearing less restrictive clothing in an area where the pain is concentrated. While many people with chronic pain report feeling better wearing certain types of clothing, research between clothing and the conditions that cause chronic pain is still scarce.

However, some data does exist. In 2019, researchers at Boston University found that wearing tight pants was associated with an increased risk of vulvodynia, which is characterized by chronic pain in the vulva.

Ladhani encourages people with chronic pain to experiment with different types of clothing as well to help them stay comfortable while looking professional.

“What people need to do when working in a company is think about how they can layer things in a way that they can put on and take off in a way that continues to stay professional,” she says.

Teona Studemire is a content creator and writer living with fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis. They like to layer, as Ladhani suggests, when having an interview that requires street dress.

“It’s easier for me to dress because a simple jacket, different shoes or jewelry can [elevate] from regular comfy clothes to something that looks dressier without me having to struggle to get in and out of them or dealing with the feeling of fabric irritating my fibromyalgia, ”they say.

If a patient has chronic foot pain and still wants to wear heels in an office, Ladhani talks to them about finding a solution that works for him, without having to sacrifice a significant part of his look.

“We’re talking about ‘If you can’t wear them on the commute anymore, can you still wear them in a more sitting position? Is it more comfortable for you? ‘ Says Ladhani.

The right clothes can also help

In addition to casual clothing, people with chronic pain may benefit from appropriate clothing. Adaptive clothing, such as pants that close with magnets or a dress with Velcro instead of a traditional zipper, are designed to help people with different physical needs get in and out of their clothes more easily.

Ladhani explains that if tailored clothing brands are too expensive for you, you can take a closer look at the type of materials the clothes you wear are made from.

“There are a lot of different fabrics that are still inexpensive, like cotton fabrics, soft bamboo fabrics, or bed sheets… which are nicer on the skin,” she says.

Beyond just having a more comfortable material, McBee-Black emphasizes that there should be a wider range of fashionable clothing options to choose from.

“If your clothing options are so limited, you don’t have that freedom of flexibility,” she says.

What it means for you

If you have chronic pain, you may find that changing your wardrobe can help you feel more comfortable. You can talk to a pain psychologist or stylist if you need help dressing comfortably in the workplace but aren’t sure where to start.

The role that clothing can play in the workplace

While more casual clothing is increasingly acceptable to wear to work in some industries, the earlier rejection of athletic and comfortable clothing has been a barrier to entry to work, according to a 2018 article published by researchers. researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbus.

“I would like us to get to the point where we don’t have to call attention to the fact that there is a need for clothing for people with disabilities, there is just access for everyone who wants it.” , Kerri McBee-Black, PhD, one of the authors of the article, tells Verywell.

McKay wondered why clothes like wide-legged yoga pants weren’t acceptable before COVID-19, when they may be helpful for some people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

“I’ve seen my coworkers say to me ‘Hey, look at these pants I got from Athleta’ or whatever meets all of my needs,” McKay says. “It can get frustrating with disability issues when people who don’t experience any of these situations are suddenly excited about adaptability things that you’ve been relying on or wanting for years. ”

Now that more and more people are adopting comfortable and casual clothes, Studemire finds that they are less embarrassed by their own fashion choices.

“Other people dress for comfort, so I don’t have to feel like I’ve ‘let go’ so to speak just because I’m not always ready to dress,” Studemire says. .

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