In the UK, around 34% of adults live with chronic pain on a daily basis. Chronic pain is described as pain that persists for longer than three months and has no cause or is caused by a health condition such as fibromyalgia or arthritis.
I've had back ache since my first cancer treatment. A bone density scan showed degeneration on my lower back bones, caused by a combination of the treatment, which has caused my bones to soften, and presumably age. There's nothing they recommended, other than 'No heavy lifting'. Not always something completely avoidable in reality.
I'm not alone, chronic pain is more prevalent in women than men and can vary in severity. There are 28 million people in the UK alone struggling each day, so finding ways to help alleviate or manage pain levels for people living like this is vital to ensure the quality of life.
If someone you know is living with chronic pain, whether it has a cause or not, there are some ways you can help to support them.
Offer Practical Help
Living with chronic pain may limit a person's ability to do day-to-day tasks; standards could slip at home, and they could struggle with personal hygiene or getting out and about. Offering practical assistance in areas they struggle with can be a great help. It's essential not to take over their life and do things for them if they don't explicitly ask for it. Take them to do their shopping so they have help and transport if needed, offer to help with cleaning or laundry, or do the school run for the kids if applicable. Practical support can go a long way and relieve some of the worry about getting things done when pain levels are high so they can conserve themselves.
Chronic pain can affect people's mental and physical energy levels. As such, they will likely cancel plans at the last minute or need to rearrange or change what is happening depending on their energy levels that day. While this can be frustrating when you make plans with them, it is just as frustrating living in a body that can't do what you want it to do. Have patience and be understanding when plans change at the last minute or need to be cancelled altogether; your loved one is likely trying their best, and this can't be helped.
Medication and Supplements
Not all pain can be treated with medication. Fibromyalgia, for example, is often treated with antidepressants or Gabapentin, which is an anticonvulsant used for pain management; however, not all sufferers find relief from these medications or others they might be prescribed.
The last thing you want to do is push a “miracle cure”, but helping to research supplements or new and emerging medication for their condition can be helpful. Talk to them about what they need relief from and how they are currently managing their pain. From here, you can discuss different options, including helping them learn more about medicinal cannabis and if this can work for them, as well as CBD oil, ginger turmeric and cloves.
Alternative Chronic Pain Management
Medication isn't the only option to help manage pain levels. There are also aids and alternative therapies that can be used regularly to assist in alleviating some pain.
Acupressure mats, for example, are small mats covered in spikes that you lie down on. As the spikes press into your skin, they encourage blood flow to the area which can help to reduce muscle pain and strain on the body in the parts in contact with the mat.
Heat and ice therapy can work for inflammation and pain flare-ups by offering relief to the areas exhibiting pain. Heat treatments can help with loosening and relaxing muscles, which can help reduce pain and is especially good for injuries and arthritis.
Talking about holistic therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, and deep tissue massage can help them look for different ways to get some respite from the pain and relax the body so it has time and a chance to heal and ease the pain.
Encourage Movement and Socialisation
It goes without saying that chronic pain can be highly isolating, and pain levels can affect social activities and the ability to move much. But this can lead to more issues, including the onset of depression and increased pain due to their bodies not moving and the muscles not being exercised. Offer to go with them for moral support if needed.
Within their ability, encourage them to move as much as possible and get out of the house, even if it's for a walk along the street or a drive in the car. Getting out with others and being social can help combat loneliness, and sunlight is an excellent vitamin D source that can instantly boost health and mood.
Suggest joining support groups or contacting charities that can assist you with practical help and meeting people in a similar position so they can combat loneliness and talk to those going through the same thing.
Invest in Aids
There are many mobility aids on the market that can support people living in pain. From walking sticks to keep them active, bathroom bars and hoists for easier toileting and bathing, to wall bars to help them move around home, and so much more.
Finding what they are having issues with can allow you to look for things that can make it easier for them to live their lives.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply to listen. They might not need or want any help, just someone to offload to. In this case, all you have to do is listen. Do not offer advice if they don't like it or try to fix things; just let them express how they feel and how the pain affects them so they can get it off their chest. Listening can be the best thing to do for your loved ones; letting them know you care and are there for them can be the best support.
As mentioned, pain affects people in different ways, and some people can live everyday life with their pain running in the background, being nothing more than a nuisance to being completely debilitating. Learning more about your loved ones' challenges can help you understand how best to help them and what they need.