Mistakes To Avoid When Managing Chronic Pain

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In September 2014, on a gorgeous fall day, I had a bicycle accident and broke both arms. What followed was emergency surgery followed by a year of chronic pain, a second surgery, and eight months of physical therapy and rehab. Gratefully, I fully recovered. But the time I spent managing chronic pain taught me several important lessons I continue to carry with me.

Being in pain is horrible. It drains you mentally and physically. After my experience, I have so much more compassion for people who deal with chronic pain. They are truly warriors. And while I’m certainly not a pain-management expert, here are some learnings I gleaned from my experience and some common mistakes to avoid when managing chronic pain. I hope you’ll find them useful.

Not Taking Care of Your Mental Health

The condition causing your chronic pain may not directly affect your mental health, but that doesn’t mean it still won’t take a hit. Constant pain its impact on your life will can really bring you down. Waking up in pain in the middle of the night triggered some of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever experienced.

During this time, it was incredibly important to recognize what was happening and lean (hard) on my friends and family for support. I have always been extremely self sufficient and uncomfortable asking for help, but being in pain and somewhat immobilized drove me to the realization that EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THE PLANET IS GOING TO NEED TO ASK FOR HELP AT SOME POINT. Once I accepted that this was my time, I was able to let go of some of my frustration. And I vowed that if/when I recovered I would become a person who always tried to help others.

Going Sedentary

It’s hard to get up off the couch and go out and exercise during your normal life, but it becomes much more difficult when you’re dealing with chronic pain. For me, normal exercise felt impossible BUT I still had two working legs so walking became my solace. My doctors warned me that I was a “fall risk” because if I tripped, I couldn’t use my arms to catch myself. But, I started walking as much and as often as possible.

As soon as I figured out how to tie my shoes w/two broken arms, I started walking

Also, during this difficult period, I learned the importance of both diet and exercise in chronic pain management. Both diet and exercise are important parts of living healthily, so when you’re dealing with chronic pain, they become much more important. It’s tough to manage your diet when you can’t prepare or cut up your food. And exercise when you’re in pain isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. I cried through many of my physical therapy sessions. But more I got moving, the easier it became, and it made my chronic pain more manageable.

Failing To Rest Enough

While you should think about your mental health and exercise, you shouldn’t let that take over your entire day. Everybody still needs important high-quality sleep in their lives, especially when they have chronic pain. The right rest can go a long way in helping your body manage your pain and helping you recover. Instead of pushing yourself too far, take the time to get the important shut-eye your body needs.

Thank goodness for my friends who took care of me and kept me laughing.

Being A Perfectionist

There’s nothing like a health scare to trigger a karmic kick in the ass. During my long recovery I had to let go a lot of my perfectionism because I simply couldn’t function normally with two broken arms. I delegated work projects that I previously would have done myself. I let my friends cook for me (and even cut up my food so I could feed myself.) My mom flew across the country to help me and she had to do my typing and help me in and out of the bathtub. I couldn’t blow dry my hair so I bought (and wore) a wig for months so that I could return to work.

Neglecting Other Aspects of Your Health

Pain is one of those things that just takes over everything else. It’s hard to concentrate on other things in your life, all you want to do is to get rid of the pain. Unfortunately, the rest of your life is still going on, including the rest of your health. 

As well as making sure you keep as active as you can and eat properly, you should keep an eye on other aspects of your health. Pain will negatively affect a lot of things. You might find that you sleep poorly and your mental health suffers. But depending on how long your pain goes on for, you’ll need to learn to compartmentalize it in a way that helps you figure out anything else that’s going on in your body.Regular doctor visits can help with this, as you can get checkups to make sure you’re okay. But you might also notice other symptoms. In this case, go to the doctor or, depending on your experiences, a specialist. As you get older, you might have to contend with hearing aids, poor eyesight, and all of the other wonders of aging on top of your pain. So pay attention, the sooner you get treated, the healthier you’ll be.

Parting Thoughts

I’m sure that there are dozens more mistakes to avoid when managing chronic pain, but these were the ones that helped me. Chronic pain can take over your world, but being proactive, realistic and learning how to ask for help, are skills that can help you cope and hopefully fully recover.



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