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Support for Chronic Pain Sufferers


Constant pain can make people feel alone on a deserted island; a support system helps.

When you observe someone in a neck brace who is wincing in pain, it can result in an immediate feeling of sympathy for them – an understanding that this individual is hurt, as evidenced by the presence of the neck brace. You need no further “proof” that the injury is “real” because you see the brace as providing such evidentiary support. However, there are so many diseases and neurological problems that people face today – many of which can cause severe, debilitating pain – even if the “proof” of the condition isn’t apparent to anyone other than the person who is experiencing it. Research has shown that people suffering from chronic pain associated with conditions that may be “invisible” to those in the outside world can further suffer if they lack a reliable support system. So if you or someone you care about is dealing with the effects of a chronic pain condition, here are some essential ways to get or be the necessary support.

Friends and Family

Chronic pain can be isolating. While there are often far more opportunities for interaction and assistance in the acute phase (initial days or weeks after a diagnosis or injury), things may be very different months or years into a chronic pain condition. Ongoing and persistent empathy and compassion from the closest people to an individual dealing with chronic pain are crucial. Facing a problematic condition alone is often a scary place to be, so reliable support from loved ones is necessary to help relieve anxiety and to encourage the person who is affected. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from chronic pain, but you aren’t sure how to help them? Many online resources can be of assistance – including those developed by the American Academy of Neurology. An important thing to remember, however, is that merely lending a non-judgemental ear can make all the difference. Intentionally listening to the struggles of someone going through a severe illness can help to lessen their fears and anxiety. You don’t need to have all the right answers or any answers at all. Just being there can speak volumes. Also, if you are the person who is in pain and you’re feeling all alone – reach out to your family and friends. It’s likely that they want to help; they just may not be sure how to provide it. The more honest you can be about what you need in terms of support, the better.

In-Person Support Groups

Though well-meaning friends and loved ones are essential parts of the support “mix” for chronic pain sufferers, sometimes the person amid an illness can benefit greatly from interaction with people who are going through the same thing. I’ve noticed over the years that one of the most beneficial innovations in my pain practice was starting “group” pain management sessions – 10-15 patients meeting for appointments every 1-2 months. The simple realization that others have and are enduring similar conditions is of benefit. The ability to share helpful tips and learn of ways to mitigate pain, cope with pain, and/or function in spite of pain are even more valuable when they come from another chronic pain sufferer. If you have been diagnosed with a specific condition or disease, talk to your doctor about finding local support groups moderated by health care agencies dedicated to that disease. Support groups can be wonderful communities full of understanding and acceptance.

Online Support Communities

Though in-person support groups can provide valuable peer-to-peer interaction, not everyone is able or completely comfortable seeking support in this way. The great news is, now more than ever, some online groups and forums can virtually connect chronic pain sufferers with people who are facing the same challenges. However, especially in the case of online groups, you’ll want to make sure that the information shared is medically accurate and safe. If one type of treatment or pain relief option worked for one person, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for, or is safe, for you. Make sure you run everything by your doctor – yes, even if it’s something “over-the-counter” and also when it seems otherwise safe to you.

Pain Psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One of the most valuable interventions for chronic pain sufferers is consultation and brief periods of therpay with a psychologist trained and expert in how chronic pain, mood, and behavior are related. The concept here is NOT that the pain is “in your head”. The concept is that there are ways to take advantage of the ascending and descending pain pathways to reduce or eliminate pain that involve more than just procedures and medications. It turns out, our brains have powerful mechanisms for reducing pain. Attention, expectation, mindset, insight and other contributors can be powerful allies (or powerful enemies) in our individual wars against pain. A well-trained pain psychologist can help educate chronic pain sufferers on a variety of strategies that empower them to reduce suffering and improve function without total dependence on pills and procedures.


Self-care is a term that’s been thrown around a lot in recent years. However, it matters. Especially if you are dealing with a condition that causes chronic pain. Do take care of yourself. Meditate, do yoga, take walks outside if you can. Focus on an inner dialogue with yourself that is full of acceptance and compassion. It’s one thing to need understanding and empathy from others, but the thoughts and feelings you have about yourself must be positive as well. When you feel yourself sliding into negative thoughts, deliberately use some phrases that take you in the opposite direction. It might be tough at first, but with enough practice, it will be worth the effort.

In a world that robs millions of people of living daily, pain-free life, it’s important to remember that compassion and empathy can make a massive difference in the quality of life for someone who is living in pain. A day without pain is something that many of us take for granted. However, after caring for thousands of patients in the throes of near constant pain, I can tell you that it’s a challenging way to live. Remind yourself to behave compassionately if you know someone who is in pain, even if you can’t “see” their injury. Moreover, if you’re the one in pain – don’t go it alone. Seek support. It matters.