Living with Chronic Pain

Managing Chronic Pain in College


College is an exciting time, full of new experiences and possibilities; however, it can also be a challenging time. Adjusting to a new environment, living situation, and schedule may be difficult, especially for students with chronic pain. Fortunately, certain measures can be implemented to help prevent increased pain levels and promote success in the classroom and beyond.

Connecting with disability services

Connecting with the school’s disability services is a good first step. The goal of disability services is to ensure students with disabilities, including chronic pain, have the same educational opportunities as individuals without disabilities. Disability services can help arrange specialized accommodations, such as granting extra time for tests, furnishing a different environment for testing, providing specific accommodations for testing, or arranging for help with note-taking during classes. Individuals who need accommodations should reach out to disability services prior to the beginning of the first semester so that accommodations can be implemented as soon as possible. Depending on the specific school, a medical note verifying the disability or medical limitations may be required.

Communicating with medical professionals

Extra preparation may be required for students attending college or university far from home. These students should make sure to discuss their plans with their medical team. Their current medical team can provide referrals to physicians, physical therapists, or other specialists near the school as well as ensure that they have enough prescription refills or sufficient medical supplies/equipment during the transition to their new environment.

Additional tips

Additional steps to help manage chronic pain and succeed in the college environment include the following:

  • Consider the weight of school supplies. Textbooks, laptops, and other required school supplies can be heavy to haul around campus. Implementing a plan to limit the weight of supplies or the time spent carrying supplies can help. Using a bag with wheels can help prevent strain on the back, shoulders and neck.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Late-night study sessions or social gatherings can interfere with sleep. The relationship between chronic pain and sleep is well documented. Lack of sleep can increase pain.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible. Stress and chronic pain are also interrelated. Stress can increase pain, and pain can increase stress. If stress interferes with daily activities or increases pain levels, counseling or therapy may help. Contacting student services for information about available resources is a good first step.
  • Stay as active as possible. Spending hours sitting at a desk or computer can lead to stiffness and pain. Engaging in regular physical activity, such as going for short walks or doing gentle stretches, can help.
  • Take breaks when needed. Instead of working or studying through the pain or fatigue, taking a break to nap or relax can both reduce pain and fatigue and improve mental and physical functioning.
  • Find or start a disability rights group on campus. Dealing with chronic pain can be isolating; however, most likely, other students on campus have similar health issues. Disability rights groups can be a great way to make friends and share experiences.

For more tips on attending college while living with chronic pain, check out Erin Shaw’s article “8 Tips for Attending College With Chronic Pain” on The Mighty.

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