Living with Chronic Pain

How to Be a Supportive Friend to Someone With Chronic Pain


Individuals with chronic pain often deal with loneliness, isolation and depression. Sometimes, friends don’t know what to do or say to offer support. However, even if the type of pain is hard to understand, it is important to show love, support and understanding.

An open dialogue is important between individuals with chronic pain and their friends to ensure that words and deeds are supportive rather than harmful. Some helpful “do’s” and “don’ts” to be a good and supportive friend to someone living with chronic pain include the following:

DON’T assume. DO ask.

Chronic pain is often unpredictable; it often varies in intensity from day to day. Friends should never assume that someone “can’t” or “doesn’t feel like” doing something. Most individuals with chronic pain want to be asked to participate in activities; however, pressuring them to participate is not the answer. When an invitation is extended, letting the person with chronic pain know that they aren’t obligated to attend and that it’s okay to cancel at the last minute relieves any pressure they may feel.

DON’T assume they will ask for help. DO offer specific help.

Offering to help someone with a chronic pain condition is a kind gesture; however, an offer of general help, such as, “Let me know if you need anything,” is often too vague. They may feel uncomfortable asking for help when specific needs arise. Asking a more specific question, such as, “What can I do to help?” is a better way to offer support. Tasks, such as cleaning, running errands, making meals, doing laundry and grocery shopping can be difficult for individuals with chronic pain. Making specific offers to help in those areas is often a welcome relief.

DON’T assume how it feels. DO take time to research the condition.

Friends who assume they know how chronic pain feels minimize the experience of the person with chronic pain. It is essential to recognize that chronic pain is highly individualized. Researching a friend’s chronic pain condition or even asking to join them at their next doctor’s appointment can provide valuable knowledge of their chronic pain condition.

DON’T offer health advice. DO encourage.

Individuals with chronic pain conditions are typically highly educated about their condition and choice of treatment. Although offering “solutions” to their pain condition may seem like a good idea, they most likely have already discussed the treatment with their health care provider. Discussing an article about the specific pain condition can be helpful; however, unless asked, it is never a good idea to promote certain treatments or therapies. Providing encouragement, acknowledging strengths, and contributing positive feedback is invaluable.

DON’T use trite expressions. DO apologize when needed.

Trite, derogatory expressions, such as, “It could always be worse,” “Consider the alternative,” or “You don’t look sick,” can cause additional isolation to those with a chronic pain condition. Imagining someone in a worse situation does not make a person with chronic pain feel better. Oftentimes, hurtful words and trite comments are expressed without thinking. Clarifying the mistake and humbly apologizing goes a long way.

DON’T take it personally. DO reassure.

The unpredictability of chronic pain can wreak havoc on a social life. If a friend with chronic pain declines a visit, it’s usually not personal. Heightened pain levels can limit certain activities. Oftentimes, providing reassurance of a lifelong friendship that will endure through the good days and the bad days is all that is needed.

DON’T touch without asking. DO ask about pain levels.

Friends tend to hug; however, hugging or touching a friend with a chronic pain condition can trigger a flare or heighten pain intensity. Asking before touching is always a good idea. Inquiring about pain levels lets a loved one know they are cared for and understood. Although it may be easier to avoid the subject of chronic pain, not asking may be misinterpreted as not caring.

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