How to Explain Your Chronic Pain to Others

Three Methods:Informing the Person About Your ConditionCorrecting MisconceptionsGetting the Support You Need

Chronic pain can impact all areas of your life, especially your relationships. You may find yourself in a situation where you have to explain your chronic pain to someone who doesn’t quite understand what you are going through. You can explain your chronic pain by explaining your condition and treatment, letting the person know that your pain is very real, and telling them how they can support you.

Method 1
Informing the Person About Your Condition

  1. 1
    Explain your condition. To start telling someone about your chronic pain, you should explain to them the root of your pain. You may not feel comfortable giving specific details, and you don’t need to. You may want to tell the person what hurts you, like your back, head, or entire body. You may also choose to tell them the cause, like lupus, fibromyalgia, or IBS.[1]
    • If you don’t feel like going into all the details, you may suggest that the person research the condition. You may also choose to print out basic information for the person to read.
  2. 2
    Tell them about the pain scale. Most people with chronic pain evaluate the pain on a pain scale. You should tell the person about this scale so they can understand the intensity of your pain when you give them a number. The pain scale ranges from one to 10.[2]
    • Pain that is a one to three is minor pain. You can go about your daily activities.
    • Pain between four and seven is moderate. This pain interferes with your daily activities.
    • Pain between eight and 10 is severe. This pain is debilitating and causes you to be unable to do daily activities.
  3. 3
    Describe the type of pain. You can also try describing what the pain is like in terms the other person might understand. For instance, you could use words like stabbing, dull, sharp, tingling, throbbing, feeling warm/hot/numb, etc. It might also be helpful to to compare it to minor pain that the other person may have felt (if applicable). "It kinda feels like the pinch from a shot, but never goes away," or, "It feels like a rubber band snap."[3]
  4. 4
    Detail your treatment. If you feel comfortable enough, you may want to explain your treatment to the person. That may include medication you are taking, physical therapy you undergo, or any alternative treatments you receive. This might help the person understand what you are doing to treat your pain.[4]
    • You may not feel comfortable discussing your medication, but you feel comfortable talking about relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and physical therapy you undergo.
    • Explaining that you are undergoing treatment might stop the other person from asking questions like, “Why aren’t you doing anything for the pain?” or trying to give you medical advice.
  5. 5
    Use the spoon theory. If you are trying to explain your chronic pain to someone, you may try using the spoon theory to get the idea across. The spoon theory assigns a common daily task to each spoon a person carries. Someone without chronic pain has unlimited spoons, because they can make unlimited choices without consequence. A person with chronic pain has a limited amount of spoons, and when the spoons are gone, you have nothing left to give.[5]
    • For example, you may give someone 15 spoons to hold. Have them go through their daily tasks. Most tasks need to be broken into smaller tasks, such as bathing. Bathing includes washing your hair, drying off, getting into the tub — which can very easily be three spoons.
    • This idea helps a person understand how each decision matters that you make during the day and how you have a limited amount of energy to give each day.

Method 2
Correcting Misconceptions

  1. 1
    Explain that you won’t just “get better. Many people believe that chronic pain sufferers will get better or get over their pain. Because they don’t understand, they may belittle or trivialize the pain. Explain to the person that your pain is real and won’t suddenly get better or heal.[6]
    • Tell them that you have to live with it, and they should understand that.
    • Try saying, “My pain is a chronic condition. I have to live with it and there is little that can be done for the pain.”
  2. 2
    Let them know your pain is real. Some people may think that chronic pain is imaginary or you are making it up. Explain to the person that you pain is a real ache that you feel all day, every day. Assure them that the pain is not in your head but a real problem.[7]
    • Explain that you would not make up something that disrupts your life as much as this.
    • You may say, “Though you may not understand it, my pain is very real.”
  3. 3
    Explain that you cope the best you can. Living with chronic pain means that you have to adopt coping strategies. These strategies help you make it through the day even if you are struggling with pain. Because of your coping mechanisms, you may appear happier or healthier than you actually feel.[8]
    • Because of this, the person may think you feel better than you actually do. They may say things like, “You are so happy! Your pain must be better!” Explain to them that you are still in pain, but you are coping and choosing not to be miserable.
    • You may say, “I choose to laugh and focus on the positive instead of be miserable; however, I still am in a great deal of pain.”
  4. 4
    Ask the person not to give medical advice. Many people who talk to people who suffer from chronic pain try to help by suggesting cures, treatments, or medical advice. Most of this is well-meaning advice, but to someone with chronic pain, it’s frustrating. Often, you have probably already tried it or heard about it. Ask the person not to try to help you in this way.[9]
    • You may say, “I know you want to help, and I appreciate it. But please don’t offer medical advice or treatment suggestions. My doctor and I have tried everything that is available to treat my pain.”

Method 3
Getting the Support You Need

  1. 1
    Ask to be included. Just because you have chronic pain doesn’t meant that you have stopped living. It is important that your friends and family include you in things. Tell the person that you want to be included in their life. You want them to call, visit, and invite you to things.[10]
    • Tell them that you want them to tell you about their lives. Tell them not to be nervous about talking about things they do that you cannot.
    • Say, “I know I have chronic pain, but I want to be included in your life. I want to see you and talk to you.”
  2. 2
    Encourage people to treat you the same. Having chronic pain doesn’t mean you have become a different person. You are still the same person you were before. You still want to be a partner/spouse, parent, sibling, or friend. Though you may need understanding and to modify parts of your life, ask the person to treat you like the person you are.[11]
    • You may say, “I know I have chronic pain and cannot do what I used to; however, I am still your partner, and want you to treat me that way.”
  3. 3
    Set boundaries. When you have chronic pain, you need to help the other person recognize your boundaries. Explain to them that you can only do so much, and there are days you can do more or less than other days. Ask them to respect your boundaries and be understanding.[12]
    • For example, you may be able to walk around one day, but unable to do it another day. You may be in so much pain one day that you can barely talk, but another day your pain may be dull and manageable.
    • Tell the person, “My level of activity and engagement will vary from day to day. Some days I can do more than others. Please be patient and understanding with me.”
  4. 4
    Explain that you may not always feel like socializing. Chronic pain not only takes a toll on your body, but also your mental and emotional state. Many people with chronic pain also suffer from depression symptoms. You should explain to the person that you may not always have the energy to socialize. Sometimes, you pain may be too severe to do anything.[13]
    • Explain that if you cancel or say no, you are not being flaky. It’s not that you don’t want to be around the person.
    • Say, “I know it may be frustrating if I cancel or can’t commit to plans, but my flare ups and pain cause difficulties for me. I have to put my health first.”
  5. 5
    Ask for support. One of the things you need more than anything when you have chronic pain is support, patience, and understanding. When you explain your chronic pain to the other person, ask them if they are willing to give you these things. Explain that you are still a person with needs and who wants to connect with friends and family, you just have to work around your condition.[14]
    • Try saying, “I need you to be understanding of my limits and patient with me. I know you may get frustrated, but remember that I’m frustrated, too. I’m trying my best, and I need your support.”
  6. 6
    Suggest people visit you. Because of your pain, you may not be able to get out and go like other people. Just walking to the car may be too much for you, and sitting in the car while driving may be impossible. Ask the person if they would mind visiting you.[15]
    • Tell the person that you would love to go somewhere with them, but it may not be possible; however, you are willing to spend time together at your house.
    • You can suggest movie nights, tv show marathons, game nights, and cooking together.
    • Say, “I know it may not be ideal, but it would help me out if you could visit me. I am unable to leave the house due to my chronic pain.”
  7. 7
    Include psychological treatments as part of your care plan. It is important to treat the emotional and psychological effects of chronic pain while you work on the medical symptoms. To get the support you need, look for a therapist who specializes in somatic conditions and chronic pain. They can teach you positive coping mechanisms and how to manage and challenge unhelpful thoughts about pain.[16]
    • Experiencing chronic pain can turn your world upside-down and make it difficult for you to do the things you once enjoyed. Your goals and plans for the future may be disrupted. A therapist can help you accept how your life has changed and mourn things (which may include experiences) you may have lost.
    • Psychological treatment can alter how your brain processes pain and in some cases can be as effective as surgery in relieving pain.[17]

Article Info

Categories: Pain Management and Recovery