What Chronic Pain Has Taught Me About Pacing


I want to share something I have been learning with all the other chronic pain warriors out there.  Pacing.

My chronic pain comes from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), one of the most painful conditions. CRPS has no one successful treatment plan. What works for one may not work for the next patient. In addition, like most chronic pain conditions, even if you are on a fairly successful pain control regimen, you may still may have “flares” which can easily send you to bed for hours to days depending on the severity. Flares may be caused by many things: the weather, stress, bumping the affected limb, etc. But one thing that causes flares that you can try to control is overdoing it.

One “tool” you can use is pacing.

This means really looking at the things you need to do in a given day and even the week, writing them down, and figuring out how much you can do of each one before it will begin to push your pain level up. At that point, before it would begin to have an impact on your pain level, you need to stop that activity and rest. That way you don’t begin to increase your pain level.

So many of us say, “Oh I’m having a good day! I’d better do everything on my list!” But then doing all of that means you work and work until your pain increases and you can’t function anymore. That can cause a flare and land you in bed for a day to recover.  These peaks and valleys are less functional than trying to maintain a more even state.

Say you wake up and your pain is at a 4 (using that obnoxious 1-10 scale the doctors love!). You decide to work in your garden. You are feeling pretty good, the sun is shining, it’s nice outside… and you enjoy gardening so this is a happy activity for you.  Great! But. You need to monitor your pain level. When you get those signals that your pain is going to start to creep up, you need to stop. Go inside, rest, do something quiet like reading a book, watching TV, or even taking a nap if that is what your body needs. Then, after a little while (and it will be different for all of us) you may be ready to return to the gardening, still at a 4.

Another method of pacing is to use your list to plan your day. Say you have several tasks you want to get done. You might look at them and realize three of them are ones that may raise your pain level. Well, then those are tasks to spread out during the day so you can rest in between them. Or, depending on the task, maybe even reschedule one or two for another day. If you have something planned in your week that will be physically challenging for you, likely to push your pain level, then it’s best to schedule the days around it to be days of resting.

It isn’t easy, it takes practice and it may be the opposite of your natural instinct. But pacing can help you prevent those nasty flares that keep you in bed. I hope this helps – it has been helping me to manage my pain better.

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Thinkstock photo by Michael Blann


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Sabrina Canella - Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Sabrina Canella is an author and dancer with CPRS/RSD.
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