4 Misconceptions I've Encountered About Chronic Pain
It’s easy to have a lot of misconceptions about chronic pain – even if you have chronic pain yourself. That’s because not only is it an umbrella term covering many different conditions, but it’s a topic that is still not discussed widely enough. There can be a taboo around talking about invisible illnesses, mental and physical, and the effect it has on people’s lives. Society still problematically conflates pain with weakness, although I’m hopeful we’re beginning to break this false link and start more positive conversations.
Even in the chronic pain community, I find we carry certain beliefs and prejudices inherited from society. Expanding the conversation, educating ourselves about the impact of chronic pain but also what can be done to manage it, will help us shed the lies that are holding us back.
To this end, I’ve made a list of the most common chronic pain myths I’ve experienced both as a patient and a pain and hypermobility specialist.
1. “Exercise will hurt you.”
One of the most common myths I’ve encountered has been that people with chronic pain can’t and shouldn’t exercise. There’s this belief that because your body is in pain or can’t function in the way that is “normal,” it’s not allowed to do anything else. This couldn’t be more wrong.
Exercise is fundamental to expanding your range and freedom of movement and can help lessen the pain of that movement. Gentle yet continued exercises can help manage your pain and I’ve even had clients realize pain-free movement through working with their body. I understand that this cannot be the case for every person with chronic pain, but I wish people realized how much they might benefit from exercise and that this isn’t something that’s denied them.
The massive positive impact that exercise has mentally also should not be underestimated. It releases endorphins and connects you to your body – a connection which is so often severed for those with chronic pain.
2. “Only drugs can help you.”
Linked to this myth of exercise is the misunderstanding that the only way to mitigate pain is through drugs. Now, of course, medicine is a vital part of any pain management strategy, but it should not be the be all and end all.
As mentioned above, exercise has a key role to play in managing pain, but other lifestyle changes will help too. Eating a rich and varied diet (while respecting any digestive issues), improving sleep hygiene and taking active steps to reduce stress and carve out time for yourself are all simple yet highly effective ways you can reduce the pressure you put on your body. This pressure is what so often leads to an exacerbation of chronic pain.
3. “No diagnosis means your pain doesn’t exist.”
My hypermobility took years and multiple doctors’ visits to figure out, and it was only after my physio asked me about any digestive issues that I began to put together the pieces of the pain puzzle. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t struggling before and my experiences only became valid post-diagnosis. Having to struggle with pain every day is something many experience, but it still shouldn’t be regarded as normal.
It can be incredibly frustrating to be told there is no reason for your pain or, even worse, to be told it’s “all in your head.” Don’t let this make you doubt your pain or your right to continue to seek a diagnosis, treatment and ways to reduce it. A diagnosis can be very useful but it in no way can sum you or your experiences up.
4. “You shouldn’t make a fuss.”
Again, linked to this, is the myth that people with chronic pain should be invisible, like their illness. Chronic pain is just that – chronic. It’s a recurring, long-term illness that can wear you down but it’s easy to feel like you’re only allowed to mention it once, or must minimize it to others. That’s not true. Your identity doesn’t have to be reduced to your illness but it also does not have to exclude it either.
It may feel like you’re burdening or irritating others by talking about your pain, but your voice doesn’t have a time limit or expiry date. Continuing the conversation is what’s going to help others open up, realize they are not alone and expose society’s misconceptions as the myths they are.
Unsplash photo by Kyle Glenn