For millions of American adults, dealing with chronic pain and discomfort is a daily struggle.
According to a 2016 survey by the CDC, it’s estimated that approximately 20.4% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain and, of those sufferers, about 8% (19.6 million) experience high-impact chronic pain.
In addition to this, at least 24 million adults in the U.S. have their daily activities limited due to arthritis pain.
In total, the Institute of Medicine estimates that chronic pain contributes to approximately $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, productivity loss, and various disability programs.
If you or a loved one are dealing with ongoing pain, you know just how frustrating and debilitating it can be. It can impact every area of your life, as well as every area of your health: physical, mental, and emotional.
This uphill battle brings with it good days, bad days, and everything in between. It’s actually considered by the CDC to be one of the most common reasons American adults seek medical care.
Most often, chronic pain sufferers have to battle with restricted mobility, limited daily activities, pain, swelling, stiffness, dependence on opioids and other prescription medications, anxiety, depression, reduced quality of life, and so much more.
Needless to say, individuals with chronic pain have a lot on their plates already without having to deal with unwelcome advice, stigmas, or criticism.
It’s a normal human response to want to help another person we see suffering or in pain, especially if it’s somebody we care for.
But sometimes, misconceptions about this condition can lead well-meaning attempts at support to end up coming across as counterproductive, hurtful, or frustrating to the sufferer.
Chronic pain can be a complex "invisible" issue and, because the individual may seem perfectly healthy from the outside, it can sometimes be difficult for others to properly empathize with how they are feeling internally.
In other words, people sometimes have trouble understanding and sympathizing with what they cannot physically see.
This unfortunately has led to some unfair stigmas and prejudices around those struggling with persistent pain.
So what you can do to help?
In order to truly be there for a loved one who is dealing with chronic pain, it’s important to listen closely to their needs and learn all that you can about the condition. This will allow you to overcome common misconceptions and gain a deeper understanding that is free from hurtful judgement or criticism.
Here are just a few tips to help you get started...
12 Things To Avoid Saying
To Anyone With Chronic Pain
1. Don't worry, you’ll get better soon.
Although this phrase may seem harmless and well-intentioned, it often can make the sufferer feel bad due to the fact that chronic pain is a long-term condition and there are no guarantees. Although there is a chance for pain to be reduced or often eliminated with time, it’s a long uphill battle and therefore, it’s better to avoid this one.
2. You don’t look sick…You seem fine and healthy to me!
It’s important to remember that just because you can’t see someone’s suffering on the outside, doesn’t mean that it’s not very real. Sufferers of chronic pain are sensitive to the idea that someone might think they are “faking it” or that they are somehow overplaying the severity of their pain, when in reality it’s very real. Although it's usually meant as a compliment, there are probably better ways to express this sentiment, such as telling them that they look beautiful or other positive compliments.
3. It’s all in your head.
This phrase may also be hurtful to the person suffering with chronic pain, because it may make them feel as if they are somehow “faking it” or should be able to completely control their pain, when in reality, they wish they truly could.
4. Is that even a real condition?
Minimizing the severity of chronic pain in this way can cause the individual to feel belittled and hurt. This incorrect stigma downplays the seriousness of the condition and will make them feel as if their struggles are being brushed aside as less real than other illnesses.
5. You’re so lucky you don’t have to go out
Although you may genuinely feel this way, it’s probably not the most productive thing to share with a chronic pain sufferer. The “normal” everyday things that you take for granted, such as gardening or going to work in the morning, are things that many sufferers dream they could have back again. Pointing out the things they cannot do, rather than the things they can, will often be hurtful or upsetting.
6. It’s just pain.. It could be something MUCH worse!
This phrase may bring the sufferer increased anxiety over their health and end up being highly counterproductive. It’s better instead to focus on the positive and steer clear of phrases like this, as well-meaning as they might be.
7. Mind over matter...Just try to think positive!
Although it’s true that pain comes from the brain and nervous system, telling someone with chronic pain to simply overcome their pain with positive thoughts may not be particularly helpful. While it’s true that the brain can be retrained and harnessed to better cope with pain, this can take a lot of time and effort, and isn’t necessarily a simple matter.
8. Can’t you just deal with it?
Each sufferer of chronic pain is different and deals with their struggles in a different way. Phrases like this may be very hurtful and make the individual feel like they aren’t doing enough, despite their condition being largely out of their control.
9. There’s always someone out there who is worse off
There is always going to be someone in the world who has it better or worse than you do. When it comes down to it, each one of our struggles and pain deserve to be recognized as valid and real, and not compared to the pain of others. Like anyone else, people with chronic pain want to be individually recognized and understood.
10. Trust me, I know exactly how you’re feeling.
While it’s wonderful to try to extend empathy to someone with chronic pain, it may be better to avoid phrases like this, unless you are a sufferer yourself. Everyone’s experience and struggle is different and it’s important not to downplay their pain, since you cannot truly know how they feel unless you’ve truly been in their shoes.
11. But you seemed fine just last week…What happened?
Chronic pain is usually an ongoing long-term roller coaster of good days and bad days. Pain can disappear almost completely with no good reason, just to reappear a few days later twice as severe. Often unpredictable, it’s best not to make the sufferer feel ashamed of these normal patterns.
12. Have you tried losing weight or....?
People with chronic pain are most likely frustrated and tired of hearing uninvited advice from everyone around them. Although you are trying to help, advice is best given by a medical professional, and they have likely tried everything in their power already. The better option is usually just to listen and ask how you can help them decrease their pain instead. If they want suggestions, they will likely ask for them.
Here are just a few helpful ideas of some positive phrases you can use instead when addressing someone struggling with chronic pain:
- I know you’re doing your best and I’m here for you
- I’m sorry that you’re going through so much right now
- I hope that tomorrow will be a better day for you
- I hope you have a low-pain or pain-free day very soon
- I’d love to be here to listen and learn more about what you’re going through
- How are you feeling today?
- Is there anything I can do to help reduce your pain?
- Do you have any resources to share so that I can learn more?
ARE YOU A CHRONIC PAIN SUFFERER WHO WANTS TO SHARE SOME TIPS ABOUT HOW TO COPE AND HOW YOUR LOVED ONES CAN BEST SUPPORT YOU?
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IT'S ABOUT YOU. IT'S ABOUT YOUR HEALTH. IT'S ABOUT RECONNECTING.
All the best,