Ask Dr. Beth: What to Do When People Doubt Your Pain

Ask Dr. Beth: What to Do When People Doubt Your Pain

Dear Beth: My friends and family don’t seem to be as supportive as they once were. It’s like they don’t believe how bad my pain is. What can I do to convince them that it’s real and I’m not faking it?

Beth Darnall, PhD

Beth Darnall, PhD

One of the more frustrating aspects of pain is that it’s invisible, and this makes it easy for other people to forget that it exists and continues to affect you.

It is common for people living with chronic pain to avoid discussing their pain with family and friends because people don’t want to complain. Indeed, complaining is unlikely to be productive for anyone.

Instead, try having conversations about your pain that focus on your goals and your plans to achieve your goals.  For instance, instead of simply saying, “My pain has been so bad lately and I’m just miserable.” — You might try a conversation along the lines of, “My pain has been worse and so I’m focusing on getting to sleep earlier and doing a little exercise every day because I heard these things can help reduce pain.”

This can be a productive discussion that involves your pain but the real focus is on what you are doing to make your life better.  These types of conversations can engage loved ones in a positive way, and you may come away with more support and motivation to achieve the goals you set!

Dear Beth: My doctor keeps urging me to get more exercise. She thinks it will help relieve my pain or at least take my mind off it. But I barely have enough strength to get out of bed in the morning. How would exercise help me? I tried walking but it only seemed to make things worse.

Research shows that exercise is one of the best treatments for chronic pain — no matter the type of pain or diagnosis.  So in this sense, your doctor is right.  Finding the right kind of exercise may be an important part of the equation.

Most people who are unable to tolerate land-based walking find that they are able to walk in a pool or do pool-based exercise.  You may search the website for the Arthritis Foundation to see if one of their warm-water exercise classes is in your area.

Alternatively, you can call your local pools and gyms to find out if they have gentle aqua therapy classes, pool classes for people with medical concerns or chronic pain, or any pool classes for seniors.  I know many young people with chronic pain who attend senior exercise classes — in the pool or on land — and love them!

Other people find gentle yoga classes to be very good and there is good research to support gentle yoga in the treatment of chronic pain.

It’s possible that the fatigue you describe may be deconditioning from being sedentary.  Movement may feel uncomfortable at first, but you will gain strength over time.

Again, the key is to pick the right form of exercise — one that works for your body — and to avoid overdoing it.

In order to learn which type of exercise is best for you, talk with your doctor about getting a referral for a physical therapy evaluation with a therapist who specializes in treating patients with chronic pain.  The PT will evaluate you physical limitations and needs, make recommendations about the type of exercise that is most appropriate for you, and help set you up on a home exercise program.

Dr. Beth Darnall is a pain psychologist and clinical associate professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. She has a particular interest in women’s pain issues.

Beth treats patients at the Stanford Pain Management Center in Redwood City, CA. More information about her can be found here and here.

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The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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Dear Dr. Beth, Hi. I have many things wrong with me. I have 2 broken feet, collapsed arches an ankles are swollen like a baseball. Both knee caps, are gone and they are bent, almost in a sitting position,. I have a bulging disc, and a tear L 5 in my back with pain radiating down my leg. I have snag femoral nerve in my groin. I was in a pain clinic for over 8 years, and I finally found a Lady pain specialist, and my pain level finally went down to a level 4. I was able to sleep and loose weight, and cook dinner 3 x and clean in my wheel chair. Well she move out of state, I was referred to somebody she knew, they cut my meds in half, and were wanting me to get epidural shots, and reduce my meds. more. I never seen the doctor, only the last 2 visit well he told me we no longer need to see you. I had 3 weeks of pain meds, to find a doctor. I found one and I had to go to phycologist test evaluation. Swimming and They wanted me to get a pain pump for my back. I had to go to the therapist every 2 weeks. I got called in for a pill count and urine test, I had was all set to go the next day, I had to drive my son that day. I woke up with a stomach viruse, I was sick I couldn,t hold anything down and dizzy. I called and left a message by noon and no answer and call again and finally I talk to the nurse, she said, well you should of called earlier, I did and nobody answered. Well she said The doctor, I will see maybe will go you again, I got the letter kicked out. My meds are being cut weekly in half. I was on 30 Ms contin 3x a day 5 mg. oxycodone a day. I was in pain with meds I was on and not sleeping for days. I called 10 pain clinics. I have 2 appointments in the next 4 weeks, My family doctor will not help me out.I begged him before xmas . Please I am so tired,of looking for doctors to help me, so I do not suffer. I have COPD, and a bad heart, and voice box polyps, What should I do when I have no pain meds left? The emergency will not help I heard.. Please tell me I will not be able to move at all I am 54 years old an I am giving up. I have no marriage he is verbally abusive too. and my 26 year old is abusive to me.. .

Jill McCoy

Dr. Beth: Can you give me any ideas on how to break my bad habit of comforting and distracting myself from pain by eating? My pain has never been so bad and despite pain meds every day is a struggle. I’ve put on 10lbs this year. Help!!