What To Do When Chronic Pain Becomes Too Much

Living with chronic pain is so damn difficult. I know that that doesn’t sound surprising, but if you live with it, you know that it’s a good deal worse than it sounds. And at some point, you’re going to hit your breaking point. So today I’m going to give some suggestions for what to do when chronic pain becomes too much. I hope that you don’t ever need this post, but if you do, I hope that this post helps!

As a reminder, I’m not a doctor or someone who has any kind of medical degree. I’m sharing things that I personally do as well as advice from professionals. If you’re thinking about trying these, please talk to your medical professional(s) before doing so!

In this post, long-time chronic pain patient Kate the (Almost) Great shares what to do when chronic pain becomes too much with advice from her and from experts.

What does “too much” mean? I’m going to address what I do when I’m having a super bad pain day and I’m also going to explain what I do when I’m having a super bad flare, or a bad multi-day or multi-week pain period. Then, I’m going to share what some experts have to say about this. I’m taking “when it becomes too much” as these two meanings: in the moment and when you’ve been dealing with it for a while and you’re at your wit’s end.

How Is Chronic Pain Different from Acute Pain?

What To Do When Chronic Pain Becomes Too Much: What I Do

Cry – This is a in-the-moment suggestion. When it gets to be too much physically, it can also be too much emotionally. It is so exhausting keeping up the mask that hides the pain. And sometimes, it is too much to even keep your head up. Whatever the reason or the type of “too much,” I sometimes cry. It is okay to cry! I hold myself together 99% of the time because I have to in order to get through life. So when it gets to be too much, I cry.

Email my therapist – I see my therapist (or, talk to him now in COVID times) every couple of weeks. In addition to what feels like a zillion illnesses, I also have generalized anxiety disorder. Seeing a therapist helps me deal with it all, but if something especially bad has happened or I’m just having a hard time deal with it all, I email him to see if I can have an appointment sooner than planned. I strongly suggest finding a therapist to help you deal with the emotional side to your chronic pain. It’s not that therapy will improve your pain, but that it will help you live with it. Psychology Today has an awesome tool to help you find a great therapist for you based on your needs, including finding someone who specializes in chronic pain.

What you need to know about living with chronic pain in the winter

Pray – I don’t talk about this a ton because it’s my business and also the Catholic Church as an institution kinda sucks, but I’m Catholic and I try to pray more days than not. I especially do this when I feel bad. One thing I really like about being Catholic is all of the rituals and such that made Calvin and early Protestants consider us pagans. For example, I love praying the Rosary, which is my go-to. It comforts me, and while I believe in God and such, frankly it doesn’t matter to me if praying the Rosary actually does anything for me physically. Just the act of praying it relaxes me.

Free Medical Symptom Organizer

Binge watch – Sometimes you just have to call it a day and hope things are better tomorrow. AKA, treat your body like it’s an overheating laptop that needs to be turned off and then on again 😉 But in all seriousness, when I have a stand-out-bad pain day, sometimes the only things I can do is watch TV and do what I can to make sure it doesn’t get worse. I’m currently going between Supernatural on Netflix (no, YOU have watched that show more than 6 or 7 times) and Bones on Hulu (also for maybe the 7th time).

Nap – One thing that guarantees that I’m going to have a bad pain day is if I sleep for less than 6 hours at night. I really need a minimum of 7 hours, but I’m going to have a bad day if I get less than 6. So if that’s the situation, then a nap will probably make me feel better. Not massively, but even just a bit is appreciated.

Living well with chronic disease during the holiday season

Wear comfortable clothes – Sometimes I have bad pain days so bad that it’s like every atom in my body hurts. On those days, every action is important, every step, every movement. And wearing the wrong clothes can absolutely make things worse.

Get a cortisone injection – This is something that is helpful when you’re dealing with one specific joint that’s causing the most of your pain and it has been increased for weeks. And, of course, when you have a joint condition like a form of arthritis. In those cases, these are extremely helpful. They’re not fun to get in the moment, or for a few days afterwards, but once they kick in and start breaking up the inflammation and/or scar tissue, they’re incredible.

Tools for Pain Management that Aren’t Medications

What one chronic pain patient does when her pain gets to be too much Click To Tweet
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What To Do When Chronic Pain Becomes Too Much: What The Experts Suggest

Practice mindfulness – I know what you’re thinking: “Eh tu, Kate?”. And trust me, I’m not happy about including that in this post, either! I hate when doctors and people without medical training suggest this because it feels like they’re ignoring that something is wrong with you causing your pain. But this is something that I do when I’m experiencing truly terrible pain episodes because I will do anything to get out of them. Okay, maybe not anything, but close to it. And my rheumatologist, who I adore, has suggested this kindly to me over the years as there is, annoyingly, data to support it. (He’s very big on data, and I adore him, so I’m trying to listen to him.) As Psychology Today says, “research shows that practicing mindfulness can change your brain to change your pain” (x). I find it easiest to meditate after doing yoga, but when I’m in a bad pain cycle or episode, I don’t feel up for doing yoga, so I’ll do it on my own. You can find guided meditations plenty of places online, and there are also lots of apps that provide guided meditations either as the purpose of the app or as a part of a larger app. Find what works for you!

Talk to your doctor about trigger point injections – My understanding is that this is similar to steroid injections for joints, but these are for muscles. WebMD says, “During this procedure, a healthcare professional, using a small needle, injects a local anesthetic that sometimes includes a steroid into a trigger point (sterile salt water is sometimes injected). With the injection, the trigger point is made inactive and the pain is alleviated” (x). So a steroid might be used for muscles, but I fully admit that I don’t understand how steroids help muscles. Instead of going directly into a joint, “Trigger point injection is used to treat muscle pain in the arms, legs, lower back, and neck. In addition, this approach has been used to treat fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and myofascial pain syndrome” (x). As you might be able to tell, I’ve never had a trigger point injection, while I have had many steroid injections.

Try acupuncture – Back in high school, before I was diagnosed with RA but clearly symptomatic, I tried a whole bunch of non-Western medical treatments. One of which was acupuncture! For me personally, acupuncture did not help my foot and ankle pain (this was before we knew that my foot was effed up and I had bone where there shouldn’t be, a ton of cartilage damage, and a bunch of arthritic damage to the bone) but it did help my ligament and nerve pain caused by carpal tunnel (caused by RA). As WebMD says, “Acupuncture is thought to decrease pain by increasing the release of endorphins, chemicals that block pain … Acupuncture may be useful as an accompanying treatment for many pain-related conditions” (x). This is a treatment that has been around in some form for thousands of years, and there’s a reason for it!

Look into pain rehabilitation centers – I would consider this to be the sort of thing to do if you are at your wit’s end of living with your chronic pain and you are at a point where you need to get your life back on track. I know several people who have gone through the Pain Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic specifically and it has helped them live with their chronic pain massively! I haven’t gone through it personally, although I’ve definitely considered it, but I like knowing that it is there as an option should I get to the point where I need it. The Mayo Clinic has a 3-week program for adults in Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota, and it’s “intended for people whose chronic pain or symptoms interfere with normal functioning and result in significant declines in health, physical and emotional functioning, and quality of life” (x). There is also a pediatric program in Minnesota!

What some experts suggest you do to deal with chronic pain Click To Tweet

This is by no means an exhaustive list! But it is a start. Overall, what works for one patient isn’t going to work for every patient, especially as there are many different forms and causes of chronic pain. Unfortunately, this often means that we chronic pain patients have to try a lot of things to see what will work for us individually. And, as always, it is important to discuss possible treatments with your doctor so that you don’t try something that is going to make your chronic pain worse.

What do you do when your chronic pain becomes too much?

Like this post? Check out:

Beginner’s Guide: Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare Up, Describing Pain Levels to a Doctor, A Day in the Life of an Arthritis Patient, Why the Traditional Pain Scale Needs To Go

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  • Reply Alex

    These are all excellent and thorough tips. I know for me, my jaw starts to hurt when I have anxiety, but it took me time to learn that! It’s so important to listen to our bodies.

    Alex |

    July 1, 2020 at 5:21 pm
  • Reply Kara

    Thanks so much for sharing these tips. I was in a bad car crash last year and had a neck injury and terrible migraines from the concussion. Physical therapy helped me so much but occasionally I do deal with neck pain and headaches. I’ll keep this handy the next time I’m in pain.

    July 1, 2020 at 6:13 pm
  • Reply anna pell

    I’m so happy I found your site , I’ve been at the breaking point too many times to count . All your suggestions are worthy . I’ve practiced most of these (not the trigger point injections or the acupuncture ….yet) and it does help . I especially practice the comfy clothes wearing 🙂 There are days when wearing anything rough touching my skin is painful. Will you consider writing an article about what to expect from people who don’t understand what living with chronic pain is like ? especially when we tend to look ‘normal’ and function somewhat normally . I’ve tried to be honest when I don’t feel that great, but I also don’t want to be the “Debbie Downer” Putting on the happy face is wearing on me . I’ve been treated for lupus , and fibromyalgia for the past 20 years , steroids for the lupus and prescription NASADS for fibromyalgia . Please keep writing , stay safe and God Bless , Annie

    July 1, 2020 at 9:52 pm
  • Reply D

    These are really generic suggestions that people with chronic pain already do. What a waste of time.

    December 10, 2020 at 5:26 pm
  • Reply Line Bech Nielsen

    So clearly these when pain becomes too much-days are my everyday. I am not able to nap due to the pain and the good days are the ones where I can binge watch (Australian Masterchef (despite being Danish(, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Modern family are the big ones). And since it’s abdomminal pain/DI, it cannot be soothed by any kind of show. However, I have been really positively surpriced that almost even when it’s absolutely worse and I am barely able to breath and screaming out in pain, I can often find some relief in a meditation where I let myself go into and explore the pain. As you mention, I am very resistant to the whole “It’s all about the mindset” or neglecting the physicality of the pain, but there is just something so relieving about letting you body feel the pain and find some sort of piece with it. Also, my heating pad is life saver. Could I only choose between that and pure morphine (not even taking the side effects into consideration), there is no doubt which has the best effect on my pain. And though I really have to take care and not use it too much since it damages my skin and might cause skin cancer and further damage, when the pain is absolutely unbearable, I let myself turn the heating pad up on full power directly on the skin.

    December 19, 2020 at 8:57 pm
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