September is Pain Awareness Month

Helen sits in a manual wheelchair, smiling

Helen has a condition which causes chronic pain, as well as periods of severe acute pain and is here to tell us about Pain Awareness Month.

Before we get any further, if someone tells you they are in pain, believe them. If you take only that from this blog post, it’s an important point.

If you’re still reading, there’s two kinds of pain, acute pain and chronic pain:

  • Acute pain: This is the kind of pain that almost everyone is familiar with. Something happens, causes pain to come on suddenly, and doesn’t last too long. This can range from a papercut through to a broken bone.
  • Chronic pain: This is long term pain, it can happen without an obvious cause, or even after an obvious cause has healed. Generally pain that has lasted over 6 months is classed as chronic pain.

Some people will only ever experience acute pain, but some of us live with chronic pain on a daily basis. And living with chronic pain doesn’t mean we get to avoid acute pain – if you’re living with chronic pain and get a papercut, it’s still going to hurt.

Chronic pain

There are lots of conditions and impairments that involve some degree of chronic pain. Chronic pain can affect particular parts of the body, can affect the entire body and can affect different bits of the body on different days. It can interfere with day to day living and being able to work.

If you aren’t living in pain, you can mistakenly think the impact is isolated to the part of the body in pain. But spending long periods of time in pain has wider impacts. Pain can get in the way of sleep, it can make it hard to think clearly, affect mental health and have negative impacts on relationships. Chronic pain can bring stress and anxiety, it can reduce how much you socialise and can be isolating and lonely.

Often, those of us living with pain, don’t look like we’re in pain. When you’re in high levels of pain every day and every night, you stop ‘looking’ like you are in pain. This makes it important that you don’t prejudge someone’s situation and that you believe them if they tell you they are in pain. Also, looking or acting like you’re in pain often looks different for people with chronic pain. Clenched jaws, going pale, looking nauseus… these are all ways I show I am in pain.

For many people, when they begin experiencing chronic pain, it’s an unfamilliar feeling. We live in a world which often approaches bodily experiences as something that doctors fix. Either they can be cured or they are terminal. But there’s a huge third option, and that’s where you can experience something that is not curable, and not terminal. This can be difficult if it doesn’t reflect your previous experience of the medical world.

However, sometimes pain doesn’t have a clear, measurable, cause but not knowing why you are in pain is not the same as you not having pain. Instead of curing your pain, you can find yourself learning to adapt to a new life of living with pain. Big life changes often come with grief, even the good changes, so it’s not unusual for someone to move through the cycle of grief at this point.

Living well with chronic pain

Whilst living with chronic pain is, well, painful, you can still live a good live. It might not look the same as your life before chronic pain, but it doesn’t have to be bad.

Whilst medication can be used to help with chronic pain, there’s lots of additional things you can do to improve how you feel. If your pain is made worse by particular activities, there may be ways of doing those activities that can reduce the pain. For example, using a jar opener can help with cooking. Often finding the things that help you is a trial and error approach, everyone is different after all. But asking other people living with chronic pain can be a great way of discovering new aids and tools to make things easier!

You may find yourself doing those things you’d always said you’d like to do at some point. In my case, I knew my pain would get worse so I grabbed the opportunity to travel and despite travel causing me more pain, it was well worth it.

What tips do you have for someone adjusting to living with chronic pain? Pop them in the comments! A few of mine include: learn about pacing; prioritise what matters most to you; ask for help and talk to other people living with chronic pain. We often become experts by experience and many people are happy to share what they know.

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2 thoughts on “September is Pain Awareness Month”

  1. Thanks for writing this, living with chronic pain is tough, and difficult to explain to others. I always have a level of pain but sometimes it increases. This means most don’t know that I am in daily pain, they only notice the spikes that stop me from doing things. Explaining that it is constant but ever changing is really hard.

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