People living with chronic pain who feel support in their lives have lower pain intensity, lower pain-related disability, less depression and anxiety, better ways of dealing with pain and overall better quality of life. To put it simply, people who have the support of family and friends are able to cope better with pain. Here are some ways you can provide support to people living with pain:

  • Be a positive role model: Plan both social and physical activities together. It is difficult to change habits and patterns of behaviour. The support of family and friends goes a long way in the process of change.

  • Remember to be flexible: Often people living with pain are reluctant to schedule activities because they are not sure how they will feel. Understanding and flexibility is needed when scheduling activities with people who live with chronic pain.

  • Plan some fun: Pain can sometimes make it feel like life is on hold. Take it day by day, but plan some fun activities on a regular basis. Consider that chronic pain might change the length of an adventure — for example your friend or family member might prefer an activity that takes a couple of hours rather than a full day.

There are three types of support you can offer a family member or friend who is experiencing chronic or persistent pain:

Emotional Support

People living with pain typically consider emotional support to be the most helpful. Here are a few ways to make your loved one feel cared for and accepted.

  • Listen without judgement. Sometimes people just need a release valve for daily stresses.

  • Provide encouragement. Notice and reinforce the positive changes that have happened because of your loved one’s efforts. For example, if your friend has been taking aqua-fit classes you may be able to point out the improvements you’ve witnessed.

What to avoid?

Pity: Few people want to be pitied, and pity from others can reinforce negative emotions and perceptions. Empathy is much better than pity.

Guilt: Sometimes a loved one will need to cancel plans at the last minute due to pain. It’s important to be understanding and not make them feel worse about the situation. Offer to change the plan to something they can manage (i.e. stay in and watch a movie together instead of going on a walk), or reschedule for another day.

Take Care of Yourself Too

Any of the things you recommend for your loved one are things you should be doing for yourself. Make sure you are eating right, getting physical activity, spending time with family and friends, and taking opportunities to get out and have some fun.

Physical Support

Ask your loved one if there are things you can take on to make their lives easier. This might include:

  • Helping out with chores or errands.

  • Helping with transportation. It can be a challenge to get around when you live with chronic pain.

  • Asisting in preparation for medical appointments. This might mean helping them prepare by coming up with a list of questions. It could also mean attending an appointment with them and taking notes. Doctors can give a lot of information in a short amount of time. A second set of ears can be very useful.

What to avoid?

Taking over all tasks and chores. While you’re trying to be supportive, you may actually be reducing your loved one’s sense of independence and confidence in their capabilities. It is better to identify what the person you care about can do and divide tasks and chores accordingly. Remember, arthritis and persistent pain are episodic, so what the person can do may change from time to time.

Being Informed

The more you know about what your loved one is going through, the more insight you’ll have. The Arthritis Society’s online learning resources are a great place to start.

Other things you can do:

  • Provide reminders of what has worked for them in the past

  • Educate yourself about relevant issues

  • Join a support group

What to avoid?

Unsolicited advice, or reminders that may be perceived as nagging. Always let your loved one lead. 

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