Supporting Someone with Chronic Pain

Mar 12, 2021 | Patient Blog

Chronic pain is a constant, ongoing battle, and one of the most challenging aspects can be the isolation that is oftentimes a side effect. This is why supporting someone with chronic pain is vital.

What is Chronic Pain?

There are two main types of pain: chronic and acute pain. Acute pain is sudden and usually has a direct cause. Chronic pain typically lasts longer than six months and either tied to injury, illness, or may have an unknown cause. 

Conditions like fibromyalgia, cancer, arthritis, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), back injury, and more can be a direct cause. 

The complexity of chronic pain is immense, especially if you’ve never experienced it before. Pain isn’t only physical, and because of the nonstop battle to feel “normal,” mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression can occur.

Frustration, stress, anger, and other emotions are common when dealing with chronic pain and illness, which makes learning proper ways to help so important. 

Here are 7 tips that can help you support those in your life battling chronic pain and illness.

chronic pain

Tip 1: Believe them

The importance of this tip cannot be overstated. Those battling chronic pain constantly struggle with people not believing their symptoms are real. This can include family, friends, and even medical professionals. For example, this study shows that patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are often dismissed by their physicians. 

Just by believing them, you’re showing your support. You’re saying, “I believe you,” which can be a gigantic weight off their shoulders. 

Having chronic pain isn’t a choice, and when a person doesn’t feel heard or understood, it makes their condition that much more difficult to manage.

Tip 2: Research their condition

If someone you know has a long-term chronic condition, becoming educated about what they’re going through is a great way to show your support. 

By doing this, you open doors to a conversation with them or discover new ways you can help them. To learn more about chronic illnesses, check out our Patient Programs page for a full list of chronic and rare disease descriptions and the financial assistance we provide.

While you won’t have the first-hand experience of what they’re going through, it always helps to talk with someone who understands their condition the best they can.

supporting someone with chronic pain research

Tip 3: Stay connected

People who struggle with chronic conditions many times isolate themselves from friends and family, because they don’t want to be a “burden.”

Checking in on someone shows your support and that you’re thinking of them. While chronic pain is an ongoing struggle, it can be good to let someone know you’re thinking of them instead of saying, “Are you feeling better?”

Tip 4: Don’t place blame or guilt

Chronic pain can be very emotional, which can lead to blaming, guilt-tripping, and more.

To show your support, remember that no one chooses to have a chronic condition. It’s not their fault that they’re in constant pain.

It’s easier said than done, but encouragement and support will help much more than blame and guilt. 

chronic pain conversation

Tip 5: Remember that chronic pain and illness can be invisible

Many chronic conditions are labeled “invisible illnesses.” A lot of people struggling look perfectly fine on the outside, but are dealing with constant pain and symptoms.

It’s important to remember this before saying something like, “You look like you’re feeling better today!” or expecting them to go out because they are “looking better.” Instead, ask them how they’re doing and invite them somewhere if they’re feeling up to it. 

People with chronic pain can often do activities that anyone else could do, but the ramifications are much worse. For example, if someone with chronic pain goes out to dinner or for a walk with friends, they may have fatigue and extreme pain for days after. 

It’s important not to expect people with pain to accept your offer to go out every time, because the consequences are usually much worse, even if they’re not always visible.

Tip 6: Offer specific help

While it can be supportive to offer help in general, sometimes it’s better to offer specific help. This way, it doesn’t make someone feel like a burden. 

For example, if you’re at the grocery store, you could offer to pick something up they need. Or, if you’re making a meal and have extra, offer to bring them some. Offering help is great, but specific help can be even better.

Tip 7: Don’t say…

There are certain things you shouldn’t say to someone with chronic pain that relate to downplaying the seriousness of a condition or trying to “fix” someone rather than offer support. 

Here are some statements to avoid: 

“You don’t look sick.”

“You’re too young to be sick.”

“Have you tried __?”

“__ would help you.”

“You’re probably just stressed.”

“It could be worse.”

“It’s in your head.” 

None of these are supportive, but instead, try to lessen what someone is going through. For more examples, visit Practical Pain Management.

Supporting someone with chronic pain or illness is so important for both you and your loved ones, and learning the appropriate ways to do so can make all the difference in the world.

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