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Living with Chronic Pain Challenges Sense of Self

Living with Chronic Pain Challenges Sense of SelfDespite the technological accomplishments and medical advancements of the 21st century, experts report that more than a million Americans struggle with chronic musculoskeletal pain.

New research discovers that individuals who live with daily pain often face a struggle with their sense of self and find it difficult to prove the legitimacy of their condition.

A new UK study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme, evaluated the growing body of qualitative research on musculoskeletal pain to help understand the experiences of patients suffering from chronic pain.

The study is published in the Health Services and Delivery Research journal. Some of the key findings include:

  • patients struggling with the fundamental relationship with their body, and a sense that it is no longer “the real me.”
  • a loss of certainty for the future, and being constantly aware of the restrictions of their body.
  • feeling lost in the health care system; feeling as though there is no answer to their pain.
  • finding it impossible to “prove” their pain; “if I appear ‘too sick’ or ‘not sick enough’ then no one will believe me.”

The findings suggest a low quality of life for those living with chronic pain.

Kate Seers, D.Sc., a professor of Health Research at Warwick University, noted,

“Being able to collate this vast amount of information from patients paints a worrying picture about the experiences they have with chronic non-malignant pain. Our goal has to be to use this information to improve our understanding of their condition and, consequently, the quality of care we can provide.”

“Having patients feel that they have to legitimize their pain, and the sense that doctors might not believe them, is something that should really concern us as health care professionals.”

A key focus of the study included the identification of methods by which individuals can move forward with their lives.

The key for some people appears to be building a new relationship with the body and redefining what is “normal,” rather than trying to maintain the lifestyle before the pain.

Developing an understanding of what the body is capable of and becoming confident to make choices can aid the process of living with musculoskeletal pain.

Experts say social network development among individuals with similar conditions, or among people who have moved on with their life despite daily pain, is critical for long-term success.

Researcher Francine Toye, Ph.D., said, “This paper shows there can be value in discussing the condition with other people who are going through the same experience and knowing that you are not alone. Of course you can learn about your condition from various sources, but sharing your experience seems to really help people to move forward.”

Source: University of Warwick


Man with shoulder and neck pain photo by shutterstock.

Living with Chronic Pain Challenges Sense of Self

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Living with Chronic Pain Challenges Sense of Self. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Dec 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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