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massage therapy musings &
persistent pain ponderings

5 Helpful Things to Say to People with Chronic Pain

black and white photo of a women placing her hand on another women's shoulder to show support

When we care for someone with chronic or persistent pain, sometimes we just don't know what to say. Their experience of pain can be anywhere between annoying and frustrating to debilitating and life-changing.

Since we have no magic fix-it wand to reach for, we usually reach for whatever floats to the top of our desperate-to-make-something-better mind: a cheesy line from a movie; a sappy greeting card message, a knee-jerk cliche just to fill the air.

Anything to replace aching silence of helplessness with vague certainty and optimism.

Even with the best of intentions, those words can fall flat, backfire, or even harm. Which is why I wrote the post 5 Unhelpful Things to Say to Someone in Chronic Pain. This second post is the follow up, featuring examples of helpful things to say.

After ten years of working with chronic pain clients, hearing their stories, and messing up a time er two myself, here's what I've learned are some of the most helpful things to say.

* * *

I'd love to send X, or do Y, can I email you about it, and you can let me know later?

So often we really want to DO something. And often, those in chronic pain really can benefit from us DOING something. But, timing is everything.

Especially early on in a diagnosis, injury, medication change, or surgery... things can get really overwhelming really quick. Your loving support may be needed and appreciated, but try not to push it or add to the overwhelm.

If you ask what they need, they might not know. If you ask what they want, they might not know. A good strategy may be to ask if you can send them an email, text, or direct message about it, and they can let you know later.

Give them a bit of time and breathing room to decide. And the grace to also just let that offer slide.

Note: Some conditions and medications may include side effects regarding memory and ability to focus. So if you're worried your loved one might have forgot about your offer, set a reminder to follow up with something like: "Hey I'm just following up on this. No biggie if now is not the time or this isn't the kind of support you need right now. No need to reply, I'm just making sure it didn't get lost in all that you've got going on."

I'm on your team.

This sentiment is a helpful reminder of community. It's simple, but so incredibly important as it communicates you're present, willing to put in time and effort, and they are not alone.

Would you like a hug? May I hold your hand?

Chronic pain can lead to a lot of isolation and decreases in safe, healthy, loving touch. Touch that nearly all of us need and crave.

In addition, the touch they may most commonly feel is that of needle pokes, tests, and exams. Not the good kind.

Ask permission, as that's important. But know that a hug and a hold could mean more to that person than any perfectly crafted words could.

That sounds so damn hard, friend.

Often we shy away from saying the simple truth: living with pain is hard, living with pain is damn hard. And the person living it knows that. We don't spare them any additional strife by recognizing that reality out loud.

In fact, our acknowledgement will likely make them feel truly seen, heard, and felt.

There will be no shortage of cliche, knee-jerk, overly-optimistic sentiment they will receive from all sources. So consider being that person who cuts through the noise. Offer refreshingly honest empathy.

Silence. Just be there.

This is the hardest one. Because we SO want to fill the air. We nearly itch with the intense compulsion to use our words, like if we blather long enough, we'll stumble upon a magic incantation of healing.

But it's okay to just be silent. To just be there. Live and share a moment with them.

Shed tears. Shed expectations.

Hold a hand. Hold open a door. Be occupied by occupying.

Breathe in, and breathe out.

* * *

So that's five helpful things to say. And just in case you need a refresher, revisit 5 UNHelpful Things to Say to Someone in Chronic Pain before you pick out the next Hallmark greeting card.


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Raechel Haller Massage Therapist Holland MI Michigan

Whoa, you made it all the way down to the footer!
And might be wondering... who wrote all these words?
Well hello! My name's Raechel and I'm a massage therapist.

I enjoy researching and writing about pain and wellness; nerding out about sci-fi or Dungeons & Dragons; gardening; sailing; thoughtful conversations; loving my German Sheppard dog; and getting lost in a book. Or two. Or three.

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