Does retirement and FIRE aggravate chronic pain? The answer may surprise you.

We have all read about the ‘financial independence, retire early’ FIRE movement. This is a way of life characterized by being financially prudent, saving and investing early and regularly. A FIRE follower is thrifty, and develops various sources of passive income from different revenue streams. Some have property which they rent out, others have dividend paying stocks. Some have advertising income from their social media channels on Facebook, Youtube, Tiktok and Twitter. What is the relationship between retirement and chronic pain. f you have chronic pain be it low back pain or neck pain, you’d want to get rid of it. If that is not possible, at the very least you’d want to prevent it from worsening. The question on your mind is going to be: Will retirement and FIRE aggravate chronic pain? Or will retiring early make my chronic pain better?

Retirement in Singapore

In Singapore where I practice pain management, the current official retirement age is 62. Later this year, this will be raised to 63, and subsequently to 65 in 2030.  Retirement means different things to different people. Some will take on a full retirement and just spend time traveling or on leisure. Others want to do voluntary work or humanitarian missions. Regardless, we can only do these things if we are healthy. If we have chronic pain, retirement may have an impact on it.

FIRE, retirement and chronic pain in Singapore
Photo by Kin Pastor on

How many people have chronic pain in Singapore?

Chronic pain which is defined as pain over 3 months duration afflicts about 8.7% of Singaporeans in a previous study. If you are female, you have a higher risk of developing chronic pain at 10.9%. The risk of chronic pain increases exponentially after reaching the age of 65. Why is this the case? This is because of the increased risk of osteoarthritis affecting the joints and spine, as well as the risk of cancer and major surgery. Surgery can lead to chronic post-surgical pain in as many as 40% of patients.

Relationship between retirement and chronic pain

The question to the relationship between retirement and chronic pain is complex. It depends on what your type of work prior to retirement, and what you plan to do after. If you were doing physically punishing work, then retirement may help. This is provided you use your freetime to stay active and fit with appropriate exercise. If you are in a desk bound job, retirement may allow you to ambulate more. If you had a lot of stress at work, your mental health may improve, and with it your body and pain, given the mind and body connection.

Pain and Purpose

However, the problem with retirement, especially the FIRE movement, is the difficulty finding and maintaining the loci of life purpose. A lot of us define who we are by what we do. Not having strong goals and purposes can lead to an increase in chronic pain experience. It does not mean that the number of things that is wrong with the body is increasing. Rather, it is natural for our minds to wander, and to ‘problem-solve’. In the absence of meaningful tasks, we focus on our bodies more, becoming aware of the aches and pains. When focus is given to it, and especially when we catastrophize, the neural pain network is stregthened and reinforced. This increases the risks of and severity and disability of chronic pain.

I still believe in FIRE and want to retire early, but I have chronic pain. What should I do?

Spend as much time researching what purpose you are going to have now and when you retire, as you would making money. Get treatment for your chronic pain today. Ask yourself if your job is physically making you worse. If so, then by all means find a way to retire or change job.

What do I think of FIRE, Retirement and Chronic Pain?

I certainly believe in financial independence, and not being overly reliant on a job. That said, I do not believe in a full retirement or early retirement for most people. I feel that work is important, and should be meaningful. All work can be meaningful depending on our attitude. Staying active and contributing actively will probably do more for our physical and mental wellbeing than the pursuit of leisure. Leisure tends to lose its meaning when taken out of the context of employment. Staying employed in a suitable job will help with chronic pain for most people, unless you have found another very strong purpose. A focus. A meaning for living other than you.

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