Chronic Pain: How Family Members Can Help - NOT Hurt - Their Loved Ones

Dr. Scott Gottlieb of Gramercy Pain Management gives readers advice on how they can help family members who are currently suffering from chronic pain daily.


When someone is in pain, it impacts not only them. Rather, the entire family feels the effects. Many will feel helpless watching their loved ones suffer. Others may become frustrated wondering, “Why doesn’t he get up out of bed? The pain cannot be that bad.”

Parents, in particular, sometimes accuse their children of inventing pain for attention.

Furthermore, family members can experience stress and fatigue from caregiver duties. Spouses may become resentful at having to “do everything,” hurt by the loss of intimacy and overwhelmed by the sense of financial insecurity if their partner can no longer work.

You would think, though, that none of those feelings compare to the person who is living day-to-day with the pain. But a study at the University of Washington in Seattle found that family members of chronic pain sufferers are up to four times more depressed than the patients.

It’s crucial that you not only help your loved one, but also take care of yourself.

Here are my suggestions:

Do your research: Try to learn about their condition and what the treatment options are.  Maybe there is a support group you can go where you can hear from others who have the same condition as your loved one.

Don’t internalize their pain. Remember, it is not your pain nor is it your fault. Your job is to help them cope, offer assistance and be supportive without being overbearing. It can be hard to strike that balance – between being the supportive caregiver without overstepping your boundaries. You want to pay attention to how they are reacting toward you. If you see they're ignoring you or getting frustrated when you suggest something, ease up.

Be empathetic. Believe them when they say they are in pain. That can be a hard thing to do. When people are going through pain, it is something that the outside world can’t see. You can “see” a broken leg because the person is wearing a cast. With pain, there are no visual cues.

Validate their feelings.  It can be as simple as saying, "I'm sure you're in a lot of pain and I know this can be difficult."  Phrases like, "you'll be fine...,” "it's just a phase" or “I know what you’re going through” are NOT helpful and can even be detrimental.

Try to think of a time when you were in intense pain: from childbirth, a bad fall, a surgery. Imagine if that pain was constant.

Don’t take it personally: People who are in pain may take their frustration out on you.

Communicate: Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure your loved one knows he or she can talk to you and vice versa.

Help in whatever way you can. We had a college athlete in his 20s who looked young and healthy but was in so much pain, he could not sit in a chair. His parents, sibling and girlfriend accompanied him to appointments, supported him emotionally and even spoke to his teachers.  The support and advocacy that his family gave him truly helped him through the process.

Be positive: Many times, chronic pain sufferers feel helpless and burdensome. Try to minimize those feelings by finding activities or even chores that they can do that won’t aggravate the pain.

Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise; get a good night’s rest. If it gets to be too much being the caregiver, call in for reinforcement – a nurse, a family member to give you a break for a few hours. You don’t want your loved one to pick up on your stress, worry or resentment, which could exacerbate his or her symptoms.


About Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a pain management expert and the founder of Gramercy Pain Management. He is the director of Pain Management at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (NYEE) and has treated over 3,000 patients. Dr. Gottlieb is board certified in both pain management and anesthesiology. He has offices in both Manhattan, Montebello, N.Y. in Rockland County and Mahwah, NJ in Bergen County.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

nancy m lopez February 17, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Thanks for this article. It is very helpfully to me to let know to my family. It is very hard to me to say how i feel when i have pain. I want to thanks to my friend Sara to sent it. I live in Puerto Rico and could not find a center like your here. Thanks again. Nancy M. Lopez (charlene@prtc.net)
Grace R March 02, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Thank you. After researching chronic pain for one year this is the first article I've read about the impact of chronic pain on family member. As a wife of a chronic pain patient, I can relate to all of these points. I remember a point where I had to stop internalizing my husband's pain in order to preserve my own health. My husband apologizes for not getting the dishes done--that breaks my heart but also lets me know that he wants to contribute to the household chores no matter how menial but some days he just can't. My quest at this time is, what impact does chronic pain have on the children of chronic pain adults? My kids are 11 and 7 have have only known their father in this condition, even though it has gotten worse these past 18 months ( he cannot drop them off at school like he used to and some days can not pick them up). Thank you for listening!
Cathi Chanslor March 18, 2014 at 03:16 PM
@Grace R, if you are still following this post, have you found any info on that? My kids are 12 and 14 and we are in the same boat with my husband's condition. My daughter has been "sick" now for a month with a non-specific illness but I can't get her to talk about ANYTHING with me. It makes me want to cry (but of course I can't because then who would do the dishes, buy the groceries, make the meal, drive the car pool and work?).


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »