10 things you should NOT say to someone with chronic pain
It can be hard to know what to say, but here are the things you really shouldn’t say.
Chronic pain is pain or discomfort that troubles a person all of the time or on and off for more than three months.1 It is estimated that approximately 1.65 million people in Ireland have pain2, with 21 percent living with pain for 10 years or more.3 Yet, a shocking 89% of people living with chronic pain have avoided discussing it with family and friends so as not to bore them or seem annoying. According to a recent European survey, about one in four felt that colleagues, employers and doctors were unsympathetic to their pain or did not think it was a problem.4
To empower those living with chronic pain to talk about it and encourage them to seek help and talk to their doctor, here are 10 things NOT to say*:
1. But you look so well: Just because someone has chronic pain doesn’t mean that they look unwell. So while it might take more thought, such as pacing themselves, resting and taking pain medication, it’s not impossible to look good even when they are in pain.
2. Do you still have pain? Having pain for an extended period of time does not dilute the intensity of it.
3. You depend too much on your medication: While more people have experienced some pain, it is mostly transitory and they will not be able to comprehend what someone with chronic persistent pain is going through. This can lead to an attitude that people who have pain every day are too dependent on pain relief medication, when it is often essential for them. In fact, 40% of patients are not satisfied with the management of their pain4 so more needs to be done to help them manage their pain.
4. It’s all in your head: Around 30% of people living with persistent pain feel that no one believes how much pain they are experiencing.4 We all have a friend or family member who has a propensity to moan, whether it’s not getting a good night’s sleep or contracting the man-flu. However, chronic pain is real and while it certainly can have knock-on psychological effects, it IS PHYSICAL.
5. Have you seen a psychiatrist? People with chronic pain are likely to have tried everything to get better and seen everyone they can. Making them feel they are not trying hard enough and making them feel like it’s ‘all in their head’ may be hurtful.
6. It’s just a matter of time: Most of those living with chronic pain have no concrete diagnosis or what they have is not curable, so telling them to have blind faith and just wait it out will only add to their frustration.
7. You should learn to live with it: When we are having a bad day, usually all we want is a sympathetic ear. People with chronic pain need to be heard and understood so listen to them and don’t brush it off with a potentially dismissive statement.
8. You should get out more: No one wants to be housebound but the reality is many people with chronic pain may have difficulty driving, walking and sitting, even social events can be too much.
9. You should feel better by now: Everyone wants to feel better and sometimes, with hard work, people with chronic pain do feel better. For some, they have to learn new ways to manage their pain but it’s not easy and they need your support, not judgement.
10. Everyone has pain: Chronic pain cannot be seen or measured and often there is no cure. So try not to compare or belittle any one else's pain and if someone is managing their pain well, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
26% of people with chronic pain admitted to regularly avoiding talking about their pain with loved ones.3 If you live with chronic pain, don’t suffer in silence. Go back to your doctor and get re-assessed because help is out there. Start by logging onto mypainfeelslike.ie and fill out the mypainfeelslike questionnaire to help you communicate your pain to your doctor.
The mypainfeelslike campaign is a collaboration between Grünenthal Pharma Ltd and Chronic Pain Ireland. It is supported by Multiple Sclerosis Ireland and Parkinson’s Association of Ireland.
* Compiled from over 50 responses from the Chronic Pain Ireland member network. September, 2016
1 Bridges S. (2012) Health Survey for England 2011: Chronic pain (Chapter 9, pp291–323). Health and Social Care Information Centre. Available at: www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB09300/HSE2011-All-Chapters.pdf (last accessed February 2016).
2 Raftery et al. Chronic pain in the Republic of Ireland––Community prevalence, psychosocial profile and predictors of pain-related disability: results from the Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Pain (PRIME) study, part 1. Pain.2011;152:1096–1103.Note: This study was a sample of patients with non-cancer pain.
3 Survey by Empathy Research on behalf of Grunenthal based on 501 Irish sufferers of chronic pain aged 18+ in January 2016.
4 Brevik et al. Survey of chronic pain in Europe: prevalence, impact on daily life, and treatment. Eur J Pain. 2006;10:287–333
Date of preparation: October, 2016. IRE/MPF16 0004g