In the UK, the findings of multiple studies suggest that chronic pain affects between one third and one half of the population. That accounts for around 28 million adults and, with an aging population, that number looks set to grow.
With so many people suffering from chronic pain, the likelihood is that someone you know has the condition. However, many people simply don’t know what to do or what to say to a family member or friend with chronic pain. We have listened to stories from those suffering from chronic pain and canvassed the experts to find out what you can do to be supportive, encouraging, and helpful.
How to Support Someone with Chronic Pain
1. Don’t take it personally
When someone we love or care for is suffering, it’s human instinct to want to be there to support them, to cheer them up, and to make it all better. Unfortunately, when the pain is really bad, it can be extremely difficult for those suffering from chronic pain to engage with visitors, so they may decline your offer of a visit. These decisions are never made lightly and should not be taken personally.
For example, sometimes Carole, who has suffered from chronic pain for 35 years, simply cannot get out of bed to greet visitors.
“On some days, it takes me an hour to get out of bed, inch by inch,” she says, so she has to make difficult decisions about who she sees – and sometimes she just has to say “no”.
2. Never assume there’s something they can’t do
Although you should expect friends suffering from chronic pain to refuse invitations from time to time, that doesn’t mean you should stop inviting them altogether. The last thing you should do is to make assumptions about what chronic pain sufferers can and can’t do, as every day is different and they may start to feel left out.
The best way of supporting someone with chronic pain is to invite them out but to make it clear that if they have to cancel, even at the last minute, you completely understand. That’s the sort of invitation a person with chronic pain will feel comfortable accepting.
3. Offer help in areas you excel
Everyone can help those suffering from chronic pain in one way or another. For example, if you’re a natural organizer, then offer to help with their life admin. If you’re a great cook, make them some delicious meals. If you love nothing better than keeping fit, offer your services as their exercise buddy.
It’s really important that when you offer your help, it’s aligned to the skills and personality type you have naturally, as that will make it much easier for your friend to accept your assistance; they’ll know you’re offering to do something you truly enjoy. It’ll also make the process a lot more fun for both of you.
4. Avoid these chronic pain cliches
In your desperation to support a loved one with chronic pain, it’s very easy to say something that’s not very helpful at all, despite your best intentions. Common chronic pain cliches include:
- “It could be worse” – Yes, things can always be worse, but your loved one is still in a lot of pain.
- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – It’s difficult to be stronger when you can’t get out of bed.
- “I heard about this amazing cure!” – You can be sure that someone with chronic pain will have heard of and explored just about every ‘cure’ imaginable.
- “You don’t look like you’re in pain” – It’s impossible to know what someone is going through just by how they look.
- “You just need to do some more exercise” – Over-exercising can sometimes be the cause of chronic pain.
Just Be There
If you’re not sure how to support someone with chronic pain, the best advice we can give you is just to be there. The assurance that you’ll be there through the good days and the bad is the best gift you can give. Yes, there may be a few bumps along the way, but over time, you’ll understand what support your loved one needs and the best way to provide it.