Care Tips for Patients with Chronic Pain
September 13 2018
Helping Patients Manage Pain with Gentle Encouragement and Patience
Chronic pain can often be debilitating and literally changes lives. It can impact how you see yourself and how you think others see you. It can keep you from doing the things you love and routine tasks. For some who do not have chronic pain, they can have a hard time accepting the limitations of those who live with it. For those suffering from chronic pain, it can cause anger and a sense of loss, even hopelessness. As a caretaker of a patient with chronic pain, you can help them learn how to properly manage their paint treatment as well as help them through the emotional struggle caused by chronic pain.
Tips for the You, the Caretaker
Chronic pain sufferers may be fine one day and irritable the next. Remember that many of your patients with chronic pain may only be able to do one task at a time and this could include being asked a question while doing something else. Be patient and ask or give only one thing at a time. Or, make a list so that the patient can work through the list in a more independent manner.
Gently encourage your chronic pain patients to do activities they can do, but don’t feel like doing. This can be especially important when it comes to getting them to participate in physical activities that promote healing or pain relief.
You see your patient more often than the doctor does so make sure to advocate for them. It is not uncommon for patients to downplay their symptoms. In some cases, a doctor may not believe a patient when being told of a new symptom. Help them by being an advocate to get them the best care possible.
A Gentle Touch
Be cognizant of the areas where you patient feels pain. Remember to be gentle when helping a patient to stand, giving a hug or even just placing your hand on their back. If you cause a patient some unexpected pain, just apologize. It can especially be a learning experience when working with a patient with a new diagnosis or a new patient.
Do not say “It will get better” or “It could be worse.” For some patients, pain may never improve and saying otherwise gives false hope. Remember that all problems are relative, so saying “It could be worse” could have the opposite effect of what you want. Also do not completely limit the patient’s independence. It is important for the chronic pain sufferer to feel like they can still do things on their own if they desire to. Few things are worse than feeling helpless or hopeless.
Tips to Help the Patient
A Change in Thinking
An initial diagnosis of a chronic pain condition can leave many patients thinking, “Why me?” Help them turn that thinking into “What now?” Help them to focus on what they can still do. A sense of gratitude can help a patient move forward by taking the focus away from the loss. It can also help them get motivated to work on their treatment.
Reduce Stress and Practice Relaxation Techniques
Stress, depression and anxiety can all increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. Help the patient learn to identify stressors and figure out how to eliminate them. Practicing deep breathing and meditation can help to relax the body and ease pain. It can also ease stress, helping with the emotional toll of chronic pain. Some techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness, guided imagery, yoga, Tai Chi or listening to soothing music. Each patient will need to find the right technique for him or herself as chronic pain varies among patients.
Each patient will need to learn their limitations and that will take time. But it is important they learn to pace their activities, even on days when they are feeling less pain. It can be tempting to do more on days when you feel better, but this could cause increased pain in the days to follow. Help patients break down larger tasks into smaller ones and to have them take their time. It is like the age-old parable of the tortoise and the hare—slow and stead wins the race.
Remind the patient to not expend all their energy before getting to spend quality time with their family. For example, a patient doesn’t want to expend all their energy during the day only to go to bed early from exhaustion by the time their working spouse comes home for the day. Remind the patient that it is okay to set boundaries and to say no so that they can be physically and emotionally present for the ones that matter most.
Encourage the patient to take their medications as prescribed. Even if they are feeling better one day, they should still take their prescription, as many medications are management medications. Skipping a dose one day can mean more pain the next.
This may seem counter-intuitive to someone with chronic pain but exercise releases endorphins, a chemical that helps improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. It also reduces pain by strengthening the muscles or prevent re-injury. Be sure to have the doctor advise on the best physical activities for each patient. Keeping a healthy weight is important for a chronic pain sufferer as excess weight can add strain and increase pain.
Patients suffering from chronic pain can feel as if they have lost control of their lives. By setting goals and working toward them, they can gain some of that control back while better managing their treatment. Have the patient start by setting small goals. Achieving those goals will motivate them to set bigger goals.
Track Pain Levels
Have the patient keep a journal logging their daily pain score on a scale of 1 to 10. Have them make note of the activities they did that day. This will help you and the doctor have a better understanding of the patient and lead to better treatment. It will also help the patient figure out if there is any activity that triggers higher pain levels.
A healthy diet should be part of every treatment program. Encourage your patient to eat a well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and is low in sodium and fat. This will aid in digestion, weight control, improve blood sugar levels and reduce heart disease risk.
Sometimes the patient just needs something to take their mind off the pain they are feeling. When this happens, help them get into an activity that keeps them busy thinking about other things. Some ideas for distracting activities include knitting, coloring books, video games or crossword puzzles.
Chronic pain can exhausting, infuriating and depressing. But by being patient and gentle as well as encouraging your patient to participate in their pain management by eating healthy, doing appropriate exercises, pacing themselves and reducing stress, you can help your patient to live happier lives with less pain.