How to talk about chronic pain at home and at work

Chronic pain can feel incredibly isolating for those experiencing it. In reality, it’s a widespread and far-reaching illness that affects up to 1 in 5 Australians

With a 2021 randomised control trial identifying that individuals with chronic pain are more vulnerable to social isolation – which can exacerbate their symptoms – learning how to talk about chronic pain can help to counteract the risk of this isolation. 

In turn, this can open up pathways to better treatments, community support and a richer sense of wellbeing.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is classified as any kind of pain that lasts beyond standard healing windows after an injury or illness, which is generally defined as 3-6 months. The degree of pain experienced can range from mild to severe. A defining characteristic of chronic pain is that pain impacts most days of the week. 

While chronic pain can often result from injury, surgery or musculoskeletal conditions, some individuals may not have an apparent physical cause.

Short-term pain usually disappears once the damaged tissue has had a chance to heal, but chronic pain can result in nerve or nervous system changes. This results in pain signals continuing long after the original condition is healed. 

Not only are people with chronic pain impacted in their abilities to work, play and socialise, but they’re also at an increased risk of experiencing challenging mental health conditions.

5 tips for discussing chronic pain with loved ones

Talking about your illness might make you feel vulnerable. However, getting support from your network can actually help reduce the impacts of chronic pain on your day-to-day routines.

You can navigate the process of sharing about chronic pain with your family by:

  1. Being honest about how chronic pain affects your daily life and activities. This can help them understand why some activities aren’t suitable for you. It can also point to areas where they can provide direct physical support for your wellbeing.
  2. Communicating specifically about your chronic pain. Identifying where it’s located, the intensity of your pain experiences and their duration can all help your family to build their understanding.
  3. Addressing the fears or concerns you have about sharing this information with them. If you’re worried about feeling like a burden, sharing this with your family can help to alleviate this concern through open, shared communication.
  4. Finding alternative ways to enjoy spending time together. If certain family events or activities are exacerbating your chronic pain, you can work together to find new routines and rituals that don’t increase your pain levels.
  5. Remembering that chronic pain is a shared experience. You aren’t alone. Working together with your loved ones can help to protect you from its deepest impacts and improve your shared quality of life. 

How to address chronic pain in the workplace

Alongside communicating about your chronic pain to family and friends, learning how to address chronic pain in the workplace is equally important. 

Consider the following when preparing to discuss your chronic pain experience with your employer or colleagues:

  1. Chronic pain may impact your productivity. By opening up a dialogue with your employer, you can make sure you’re receiving the support necessary to navigate chronic pain alongside your workplace responsibilities.
  2. There may be a resistance to discussing chronic pain in the workplace due to a fear of discrimination or retaliation. However, it’s important to remember that employees in Australia are protected by anti-discrimination laws in their workplace. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 prohibits any kind of discrimination against employees with disabilities, including chronic pain. 
  3. Australian workplace laws also require employers to make reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate employees with disabilities. This provides the comprehensive protection you need to feel safe and secure as you communicate with your employer.

Support yourself with open communication

Building a habit of open communication about chronic pain with loved ones and in the workplace can provide several transformative benefits. 

By communicating like this, you’re open to receiving greater love and support from your friends and family. This has the potential to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and can result in an overall sense of improved emotional wellbeing.

Sharing chronic pain experiences in the workplace can also give your employers the information they need to make reasonable accommodations, such as ergonomic workstations, more flexible schedules, or breaks for pain-relieving activities. You may also find access to company-funded healthcare support that can assist in your pain management.

Overall, choosing to communicate with vulnerability and authenticity about your experience with chronic pain can help you feel less alone in this significant life experience. Choosing not to go it alone can be transformative in how intense the physical, mental and emotional management of its symptoms are.

Looking for more support in your chronic pain journey? Discover more news and useful blogs from the GreenHeart Medical team.

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