Tips For Coping With Chronic Pain

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The Ins And Outs Of Coping with Chronic Pain

BY REBECCA ANDERSON

Do you experience chronic pain? If so, you’re not alone. In Australia, at least 20% of people experience chronic pain. Chronic pain refers to pain that lasts three months or longer and can include anything from arthritis, back pain to headaches or nerve pain.

Understanding Chronic Pain: The Pain Cycle

If you experience pain on a regular basis, you know pain is often unpredictable.

Not all chronic pain is curable, but it can be managed

Pain free days can be rare and it can be frustrating to not know when you’ll feel good again. When you do finally have a good day, the temptation to catch up on household chores, work and activities that fell by the wayside when they were in pain can take over, but you flurry of activity can have consequences.

Wanting to be active while you have a reprieve from pain makes perfect sense, but over-exertion can cause pain and lead to periods of inactivity. Inactivity de-conditions the body – muscles are weakened and joints become tighter – which restricts movement and worsens your level of pain, starting the cycle all over again. So what’s the solution?

Pacing with Pain

The saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ couldn’t be truer when it comes to managing chronic pain. Instead of oscillating between periods of huge activity when you feel ok and long periods of inactivity while you recover, the best thing you can to do manage your pain is learn to pace yourself.

The aim of pacing is to maintain a fairly even level of activity every day. This means on days where you feel good and days where you feel bad; your overall level of activity should be roughly the same. Apart from helping you to manage you pain, pacing will improve your overall level of fitness and help you to get more done in the long run.
Here’s how to do it.

Step #1: Know Your Baseline Pain Threshold

Monitor your activity and pain for a week and work out how long you can comfortably do certain tasks (e.g. sitting, cleaning, walking) before you feel pain. Do the task in the morning and evening so you can develop a true baseline. Knowing your baseline will help you know your start point.

Step #2: Start Small

Once you have a baseline of the time it takes you to do each activity, reduce this number by 80%. For instance, if you can shop for 10-minutes before you feel pain, limit your shopping time to 8-minutes to start with before either taking a 15 or 20-minute break or heading home for the day – even if you feel like you could do more.

It’s important to not do more than you’d planned. Breaks should be based on how much time you’ve spent doing a specific activity, not how much you’ve accomplished in that time. Frustrating as it might feel to stop, remember doing a consistent amount done each day you’ll be getting more done in the long run.

Step #3: Increase Activity by 5-10% Each Week

Gradually increase your activity for specific tasks and record your progress. If your pain is really bad on any given day, try to still do planned activities but take rest breaks more often and for longer. If you’re having a good pain day, be careful not to do more what you planned.

Even when you pace yourself and do everything right, there will still be time when your pain flares up out of the blue. This is normal but understandably frustrating. Try not to get discouraged when this happens and stick to your plan. Reflect on your overall progress and focus on that.

Rebecca is a warm and genuine clinical psychologist registrar who works with her clients to develop a mutual understanding of their difficulties and an evidence-based treatment plan to help them achieve their goals. Rebecca has experience working with children, adolescents, adults, and families, and has a special interest in working with anxiety, emotional regulation difficulties, depression and procrastination. She completed her Master of Clinical Psychology at the University of Technology, and has been trained in cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness integrated cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, schema therapy and motivational interviewing.


 

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