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Work-life Balance an Ongoing Effort for Physicians


Balance - whether between your shoulder elevators and scapular stabilizers or personal and professional obligations as a physician takes constant work.

I have a pain in my neck - literally. The physical therapist told me that it was because my shoulder elevator muscles were out of balance with my rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer muscles. One way to look at it is that my scapular stabilizer muscles are underdeveloped, but I prefer to think about it as my shoulder elevators are just super strong. No matter how you slice it, I had a painful problem. Like a good patient, I did my exercises, attended physical therapy, and got better, actually becoming completely pain free within six weeks.

Before going to physical therapy, I tried a lot of other things - ergonomic correction of my workstation, a new “neck” pillow, different sleeping positions, better posture, a lumbar support pillow, yoga, stretches, and more upper extremity strength training. None of that worked. Physical therapy helped because it forced me to work on my weak muscles, which isn’t any fun at all.

I did what the majority of my patients did. I kept up the exercises for a while but then was pain-free so I stopped doing them. Gradually, insidiously, and progressively, the pain returned. It used to be just once a week but now - months later - it’s back to daily pain. I need to start doing my exercises again. I know they’ll work. I also know they’ll take time and be hard to do since I haven’t done them in so long.

Balance - whether it’s between your shoulder elevators and scapular stabilizers or between personal and professional obligations takes constant work. Sometimes, you need to be quite deliberate about it, such as when you are experiencing literal or figurative pain. Sometimes, when balance is achieved, you need to do maintenance. However, unfortunately, you can’t just ignore it and do nothing. Pain and discomfort will gradually and increasingly develop when maintaining or achieving balance is ignored for too long.

I feel this in my life when I have too many meetings, too much call, or too many charts to close at home. I become uncomfortable. Things don’t feel right. I’m aware that I can continue this way but it’s going to be an unpleasant experience if I do. I need to exercise those areas that are weak - my commitment to be a co-parent with my husband, my ability to say “no” to professional invitations, and time spent with my family.

None of the over-strong areas are bad. It’s great that I’m productive at work, it’s flattering that people want me to speak or write, it’s great that there are so many interesting activities in which to become involved. However, if I keep giving my energy, time, and attention to these “overly strong” areas, the areas that are weak will continue to atrophy and the imbalance will grow.

So, in the pursuit of personal-professional balance as well as becoming pain-free in my neck, I need to spend the time doing my exercises and reordering my priorities.

Find out more about Jennifer Frank and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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