Developing chronic pain necessitates a substantial life adjustment. Aside from the constant or repetitive unpleasant physical sensations, pain patients need to adapt to changes in the activities they’re able to perform. They may find that they can’t do things they used to do, or that they have to do them less intensely or for shorter durations. Giving up important activities or drastically altering how you perform them can result in feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and depression.
People with pain are not without hope when it comes to returning to their activities, or developing a more positive attitude about what they can still do. Though physical activity becomes more difficult with pain, remaining active is an important component of chronic pain management. Addressing fear of movement may be necessary. Many patients find help though such methods as cognitive behavioral therapy or graded exposure physical therapy, wherein fears of movement are challenged and combated.
Pain patients may find goal setting and management to be immensely useful tools in helping them adapt to the changes and challenges that come with chronic pain. One recent study into patients with polyarthritis found that implementing goal management and adjustment strategies significantly improved patients’ adaptation to life with the disease. Adaptation was measured by depression, anxiety, positive affect, purpose in life and work and activity participation scores.
See more on this study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23743213.
A goal management plan should include a number of components, including the setting of a goal, breaking it down into smaller, manageable components and adjusting goals should the patients need to approach it more slowly.
Think of a goal you’d like to reach. You’ll want this to be a reasonable one. It can be short- or long-term; you may find the most satisfaction and motivation in setting both types of goals. Next, break your goal down into steps, which will serve as your micro-goals. The goals you set will depend on your current physical limitations. For example, if you use a wheelchair most of the time, you may have the goal of walking with the assistance of a walker for 5 minutes. If you have chronic back pain, your goal might be to hike a mountain. Whatever the goal, break it down: What do you need to do in order to work up to that? If you want to go on an hour-long hike, you’ll need to:
Get comfortable walking for an hour on level terrain. Start with 20 minutes of walking five days a week.
After a week or two, move up to 30 minutes.
After another week or two, move up to 45 minutes.
After another week or two, move up to an hour.
Get comfortable walking on an incline. Incorporate a small hill into your hour-long walk to start with.
Gradually incorporate more inclined terrain into your walk until the hike becomes feasible.
As said above, goal adjustment is important to the success of a goal management plan. Say you begin with your first step – in the above example, walking 20 minutes on level terrain. Perhaps this is too much, and your back pain interrupts your progress. At this point, you may reassess your goals and decide to begin a core exercise regimen before subjecting your back to the pressures of walking. Or, you may drop down to 10 minutes of walking a day, increasing to 15 or 20 minutes after a week or so.
Chronic pain always demands an adjustment. Whether or not you adjust well is partly up to you. Developing a goal setting and adjusting plan can help you adapt well and live a better life.