Chronic Pain: Build a Support Group

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 14, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 14, 2014

If you suffer from chronic pain, you may feel alone. It may feel like no one truly understands what a struggle each day is for you. However, it’s important that you don’t give up hope. Remember that your loved ones care about you. They may not understand, but that doesn’t mean they don’t wish you the best.

When dealing with chronic pain, it helps to have a strong support system. Chronic pain can be both physically and emotionally taxing. Having help can make all the difference in getting through your day.

There are many ways you can build a support group to help you cope with chronic pain.

Talk to Your Family & Friends

It’s essential that someone is involved in your treatment and pain management, be it family, friends, or colleagues. “Having someone who can decrease the sense of isolation and fear and be another set of listening ears can make all the difference in the world,” says Micke Brown. Micke is a long-time nurse specializing in pain management and the former Director of Communications with the American Pain Foundation (APF).

When people see a loved one living with persistent pain, they suffer too. At first, they are likely to feel sympathetic and worried about your condition. However, as time goes on, the relationship between you and your family may become complicated. You may feel resentful towards them because of their inability to recognize your daily struggle. They may feel frustrated by their inability to help. 

Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum is medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of Pain Free 1-2-3—A Proven Program for Eliminating Chronic Pain Now. He says it helps to “recognize that after hearing about it a few times, most healthy people will not want to be immersed in a day-to-day pain report. As the saying goes ‘you can’t pull somebody out of quicksand by jumping in with them.’ ”

Family should stay involved in the patient’s life by actively participating in his or her healthcare. They should simultaneously work to help keep the patient involved in the family’s affairs. Communication is the key. Both patient and family should acknowledge any negative feelings before they fester. Everyone should feel like they are able to talk about anything.

Talk to Your Doctors

Your doctors are also an important component of your support system. They are not only there to treat your symptoms. A good doctor can also help advocate for your care.

Primary Care Doctor

Your primary care provider (PCP) is very important when you’re dealing with a long-term condition such as chronic pain. While your PCP may not be able to attend to all your needs, he or she generally has the best overall picture of your health. Your PCP is also one of the best advocates for your care.

Pain Management Specialists

Chances are that you will need to see one or more pain specialists during the course of your treatment. Dr. Teitelbaum suggests seeking out a specialist familiar with chronic pain. Ideally, the doctor should be knowledgeable about both standard and holistic therapies.

Here are some questions that the MHE Research Foundation recommends chronic pain sufferers ask a specialist during the first session:

  • How many cases of my pain condition have you treated?
  • What are your special qualifications to treat my pain condition?
  • Have you participated in any special pain management training?
  • What is your philosophy of pain management?
  • Are you or someone in the clinic available 24 hours a day if I need help?

You may also wish to ask a specialist about the types of medical and/or alternative treatment options they use, whether they refer patients to other specialists for additional treatment or care, and if their clinic is listed with any professional societies.

Mental Health Professional

Many people living with pain also suffer from mental health concerns such as:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression

If you think you may be depressed, seek out professional help. Depression can make your chronic pain worse. Treatment can improve both your pain and your ability to cope with pain.  

Alternative Therapists

Some people with chronic pain may find it helpful to try complementary therapies, such as:

  • massage
  • spinal manipulation
  • acupuncture
  • guided imagery
  • herbal supplements
  • cannabis
  • electrical stimulation

Before you undergo any complementary therapy, discuss it with your doctors. You need to be certain any treatment will be safe for you. Supplements and other alternative treatments can sometimes interact with other medical care.

You should also make sure your alternative therapist is properly qualified and/or accredited. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) provides a resource for understanding alternative therapists’ credentials.

Using the Chronic Pain Community for Support

For many, there is no better support than that of someone who also suffers from chronic pain. Online communities are great ways to connect with others who are going through similar experiences. There may not be someone in your immediate social environment with a similar condition. However, the Internet lets you connect with people all over the world. You can share stories, trade advice, and build relationships.

If you prefer to meet with others in your community, talk to your pain management specialist. Your doctor may be able to recommend a chronic pain support group near you. The American Chronic Pain Association also has a listing of local support groups.

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