Living with Chronic Pain

Coping With How Chronic Pain Impacts Body Image


Studies have shown that connections exist between chronic pain and body image. It is unclear if pain causes distorted body perception, or if bodily dissatisfaction contributes to pain levels. However, there seems to be a higher level of negative body image among those who experience chronic pain. Additionally, the body changes and evolves as chronic illness progresses. For example, decreased mobility can lead to weight gain and certain conditions can change the outward appearance. There are various tools that can help combat these distorted thoughts.


Participating in the community has been shown to improve self-perception. This may include volunteering, forming and nurturing relationships, and engaging in activities. Support from friends, family, and other members of the community can also help foster a better self-image.


The practice of mindfulness involves using certain skills (e.g., guided imagery, meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, etc.) to focus on the present and observe inner thoughts and feelings without judgment. The brain is wired to analyze situations and solve problems, which can be draining as the mind continually finds new things to think about. Mindfulness involves gently retraining the mind to become aware of present experiences while acknowledging moods and accepting feelings. Practicing mindfulness makes it possible to react to situations based on reality, rather than from past experiences or possible future events that have no bearing on the current situation.

Allow uncomfortable feelings

Chronic pain often creates sadness, guilt, shame, anger, etc., which is difficult to experience; however, these feelings are part of the coping process. Feelings must be acknowledged and expressed in a healthy manner.

Focus on the good

Chronic illness frequently results in wishes for less pain, the ability to participate, and the desire to look a certain way. While these feelings are valid and normal, focusing on the negative magnifies poor body image. By focusing on the positive bodily features, the inner thoughts change from negative to positive.

Additional sources: ScienceDirect, Psychology Today, and U.S. News & World Report

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