How to Support Someone Suffering from Invisible Pain 

If you saw someone with a cut on their finger, you could help them wrap it in a bandage. If someone tripped and sprained their ankle, you would help them get off their feet and put some ice on the injury. But what if someone is hurting and you can’t see it? How do you understand what they might be feeling so you can offer to help them? We’ll take a look at some ways you can offer support to people who suffer from invisible pain. 

In the United States, more than 50 million adults have some kind of chronic pain condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these chronic conditions are pain points that other people cannot see. Someone may be in pain, but because they are not wearing a cast, using a cane or wearing a neck brace, how they are feeling is not visible to others. 

Some of the most common causes of invisible pain are conditions like: 

  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome 
  • Arthritis 
  • Migraine headaches 
  • Anxiety 
  • Autoimmune disorders 
  • Brain injuries 
  • Mental health issues 

To add to the feeling of invisibility, many people who have unseen pain don’t want to talk about their health struggles. This might make it even more challenging to try to support them. Here are some ways you can help: 

Invite and include. When someone is feeling exhausted or sick, they likely won’t feel like participating in activities. They might initially make plans, but then have to back out at the last minute. Be gracious if this happens. Tell them you understand, and invite them to join in the fun next time. It’s important to keep finding ways to include them. 

Don’t judge someone by their appearance. You may think because someone “looks fine,” they aren’t really in pain. It’s a common issue, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association. One way to be empathetic is to stop judging someone with your eyes and learn to listen to what they are trying to tell you. If they don’t feel well enough to do something or go somewhere with you, don’t try to talk them into it. Ask them what you can do to help. 

Offer to go to their next appointment. If someone close to you battles a condition that causes invisible pain, one way to better understand what they are dealing with is to offer to go to their next doctor’s appointment or physical therapy session with them. This will give you a better appreciation for how they are treating their condition and will offer them some much-needed support. 

Modify and adapt. Once you know what someone is dealing with, you can make plans that can better accommodate their needs. Instead of a long, hilly hike, someone with chronic fatigue syndrome or lower back pain might appreciate a shorter, flat trail with benches available for rest breaks. A friend who tends to get migraines in the evenings might need to switch her exercise outings to morning workouts so she’s apt to be feeling better during that time frame. The important thing is to keep the communication lines open so you know what will work best for them, and make them feel included. 


Photo credit: Getty Images


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