DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My spouse suffers from chronic pain after a back injury five years ago. The pain affects his ability to work and enjoy day-to-day activities with our family. Seeing him in pain and not knowing how to help is difficult for me. How can I support him on the challenging days when the pain is more severe and encourage him on the good days?
ANSWER: For millions of people, living with chronic pain can significantly affect their daily activities, relationships, work and well-being. Chronic pain is typically categorized based on the duration of pain experienced.
The pain or discomfort people feel while recovering from an injury or illness is considered acute or subacute. Pain lasting beyond usual recovery from a trauma-related event or surgery, typically 12 weeks, is considered chronic. Pain can transition from acute to chronic, depending on a person's recovery process.
Chronic pain can cause a person to avoid activities that cause further pain. This can lead to muscle weakness, joint problems and being more prone to injury. These avoidance behaviors also can lead to psychological isolation and stress. Moving the body and being physically active are crucial for long-term pain management. Encouragement from family, friends and caregivers to stay active and motivated is vital in improving physical health and psychological well-being.
Central sensitization pain presents additional challenges, including mood changes and fatigue. Patients with central sensitization pain may experience heightened pain responses during physical activity.
It's important that loved ones understand the effect of chronic pain on a person's daily life. Not being able to engage with family and friends can lead to mood symptoms, such as anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness.
It's beneficial to encourage people with chronic pain to maintain a sense of normalcy, remain involved in social activities and stick to a routine sleep schedule.
However, caregivers should balance encouraging activity and enabling passivity, as helping can exacerbate physical and psychological limitations and dependency.
When supporting someone with chronic pain, here are some ways a loved one can help:
Remember, people's experience with chronic pain is unique to them, so it's essential to tailor your support to their needs. — Dr. Qasim Raza, Pain Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, Barron and Eau Claire, Wisconsin