Acceptance is the first and the most important tool in your pain self management toolkit.
Acceptance is not about giving up but recognising that you need to take more control with regards to how you can better self manage your pain.
Acceptance is also a bit like opening a door - a door that will open to allow you in to lots of self managing opportunities. The key that you need to open this door is not as large as you think. All you have to do is to be willing to use it and try and do things differently.
Being successful in pain self management means getting both help and support from others.
Ask your health care professional, friends, family and work colleagues about working more together - becoming a team.
Develop a pain self management plan. Find out if there are other support groups in your community you could join which could provide you with more self help management skills.
Pacing daily activities is one of the key tools to self managing your pain.
You need to begin to pace your work and also other everyday activities. Did you recognise yourself from the pain cycle? You tend to over do things, or rest too much and become inactive and lose fitness. Pacing in short is: taking a break before you need it throughout the day. But how can you remember to pace yourself?
Remember the old saying … “How do you eat an elephant?”
Answer: One bite at a time! Pacing is carrying out activities one bite at a time and not tackling all of them at once! For examples of pacing daily activities and other useful resources, why not visit our resources page.
Prioritising and planning your days is an essential tool.
Make a list of things you would like to do but remember to be flexible. It is a great way to set yourself a starting point, for example:
Tuesday PM - I write an activity plan for next day.
So to avoid this happening set yourself, simple, realistic goals or action plans. Just as you need goal posts when playing football, or a finishing line when racing - you need something to aim for.
Perhaps, you could set yourself a simple hourly, daily or weekly action plan. Always ask for help from your health care professional if you are not sure. You can also learn more about setting goals and action planning when you attend a self management programme (SMP) - See below for more information for attending an SMP class.
Self Management Programmes (SMP)
These are run in the community by highly trained tutors who also have health conditions (including pain) themselves but have learned to become good self managers. SMP’s are run by Arthritis Care called Challenging Arthritis and the Expert Patients Programme.
Take things steadily. It may take you a few weeks or months to see changes or improvements.
When you start to feel good, you may want to catch up with activities that you may have let go of. Don’t be tempted to over do it otherwise your chances of yet another set back could increase.
A good saying is ‘take things one day at a time’. And also, ask for help and support from others - its not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.
Relaxation skills are very important for tense muscles in the body and for unwinding the mind - these could be:
Coping or self managing?
Coping with persistent pain can be like playing a game of snakes and ladders - a game of luck. Being an over achiever you can tend to do more on good days (climb the ladder) and on bad days, do less and return to bed. (This is like sliding down the snake). Self managing is taking positive, planned action which can reduce the ‘luck’ element in pain self management.
Many people with pain fear exercise in case it causes more problems. However this is not true.
Regular stretching and exercising actually decreases pain and discomfort. It prepares the body for other activities. It can strengthen weak muscles and you will also feel better for it.
Remember to start slowly and build up or increase your stretching and exercising. Its not as hard as you think.
If you are in pain, remember that unfit and under used muscles feel more pain than toned ones. Talk with your physiotherapist or fitness coach about an individually tailored stretching and exercise programme that you could can work on steadily and safely.
This will help you build your confidence, muscle and joint strength. Remember that swimming (or just walking up and down in the pool) is also a low impact exercise and is good for you if you have join problems.
15 reasons why stretching and exercising (don’t forget swimming) is good for you:
Helps to improve and maintain good overall health
Water is essential for a healthy life so drinking plenty of water is important for everyone. Its even more important if you are taking part in physical exercise, so make sure you keep properly hydrated before, during and after exercising.
Keeping a diary of your progress will help you to see how far you have come and note the successes you have achieved. This will help you to build on success.
But it is also handy to note what didn’t work so you can learn from those experiences. We sometimes learn more from our errors and not from our successes.
Try to write down one piece of evidence each day to show yourself how you are positively self managing your pain. Doing this has been shown to increase peoples confidence.
Is it unrealistic to not have a set back plan?
The simple answer is NO! Developing a set back plan is good pain self management. Ask your healthcare provider if you need help in making one if you are not sure.
Make a note of what triggered your set back and what helped. This could be useful information if and when you experience another. There is an example of a set back plan below.
Having a set back plan
It is not realistic to think that you will never have a set back ever again. Remember if you are an over achiever, it is easy to forget to pace yourself and in turn you may experience a set back! So the first thing not to do is panic, but many people do. It is best to have a set back plan if one occurs.
Set backs are usually caused by doing too much - overdoing it, pressure from others, or just forgetting you have a pain problem. Don’t get annoyed with yourself, it is common to occasionally have set backs.
If you are not sure how to prepare a set back plan ask your GP or health care professional for help.
Team work between you and your healthcare professional is vital. Imagine the Arsenal football team playing without a team plan.
Managing your pain is not a ‘one way street’ and it is unrealistic for your health care professional to totally solve it. You have an important part to play as well.
Together both you and your health care professional can set an action plan. This action plan could help you to both track your progress.
Action planning is taught when you attend self management programme.
You maybe asking yourself do I have to put these tools in to daily practise? “What every day?”. The simple answer is YES!
Just as the person with diabetes has to take their treatment/ medication and maintain their diet daily, your treatment is planning/ prioritising, pacing, setting weekly or long term goals/ action plans, relaxation, exercise, generally keeping active and being in charge of your pain.
Keeping it up is difficult for many people but its not as hard as you think once you have set yourself a routine - just like brushing your teeth, self managing your pain will become a habit. Get others involved and make self management fun.