Everyday activities and daily routines with chronic pain
Chronic pain can disrupt people's daily routines and activities. Tasks like cooking, shopping, housework, gardening and DIY are often difficult and can cause an increase in pain and fatigue.
Whilst most people felt that their lives were now limited, many had found ways of making their daily tasks more manageable by approaching them in a different way. Some had learnt to manage their activities and minimise pain by prioritising tasks, setting goals and pacing (see also 'Pain management: pacing and goal setting'). People had also picked up tips to make tasks easier.
Coping with the pain occupies people's minds and energy and many people commented that their concentration and memory where not as good as they used to be. This affected their ability to do everyday tasks, particularly things that involved reading and learning new skills. Several people said they now needed to write lists or keep a diary. One woman said her mother had bought her a whiteboard to help her remember important things.
People's ability to do housework was often limited. Some people had to lower the high standards they had for their homes, and found this hard. However, others preferred to save their energy for work socialising and exercise. Others got help from friends and family or paid a cleaner for particularly strenuous jobs such as hoovering, cleaning windows, cleaning the bath and changing beds.
Some found they could do these jobs by pacing themselves and waiting for a good day. Tips people had which made jobs easier including cleaning the bath or shower while in it, pulling the vacuum cleaner backwards, splitting up heavy loads, dropping laundry down the stairs rather than carrying it, using a stool to avoid over stretching and sitting down to iron.
- Age at interview:
- Care home manager; single.
Things like housework are really quite hard and things like cleaning the bath, the natural inclination is to bend over and do it. Again its adjusting, maybe kneel down to do that but sometimes my knees won't bend properly so it just has to be left that day and lived with.
It's probably not that filthy dirty anyway, but using the hoover has been quite difficult. It was suggested that I pull it backwards and that again, because if I push it forwards then my back turns very sore. But pulling it backwards for a little while, is easier for some reason it doesn't seem to strain so much and doing a bit at a time rather than the whole lot. I watch about, I can't lift or carry heavy things, I try to watch doing that and there are ways and means of splitting things into two or three loads rather than the one.
I still forget on occasions and pay for it. Cooking again smaller quantities rather than big pans which I can't manage.
- Age at interview:
- Secretary; widowed; 2 children.
I was wondering actually about your housework and things that you have to do..?
How do you go about doing them?
Well I use a stool, if I've got to get up to higher things now I use a stool but it is still quite painful to do things like windows, paint work and things and I guess I'm just leaving them at the moment I can't remember when I last cleaned my windows.
Hoovering I do, but sometimes it's quite painful it can you know, really catch. Dusting is okay I just dust levels that are, you know, eye level, my hands will go to, I don't dust up higher than I can't reach or if I do I stand on a stool.
Putting out the washing can be painful, although I try and bring the line down so that it's at a better height. Ironing is, I can't do much ironing because you know the pressure is uncomfortable. Things like cleaning the bath, you more or less have to rub it round while you're in there.
Some found preparing a meal difficult and struggled with things like lifting heavy pans, chopping vegetables, opening jars and standing for long periods. Cooking could be made easier by breaking tasks up, sitting to prepare food, choosing easier things to cook and using smaller pans.
A woman with upper limb pain said that when her husband was not around she used easier alternatives such as frozen vegetables. Another stopped cooking traditional pastries and now buys them but found them not as good as her own. One woman found it upsetting when she dropped and broke things because of pain in her hands but realised the sensible solution was to buy unbreakable dishes.
- Age at interview:
- Production operator (not working); married; 1 child.
If I've got to really pull a heavy door, I'll use both arms or there are gentlemen still alive in the world today, they will open the door for you. But generally a lot of places now have automatic doors, which are godsends.
But you go into buildings like maybe school buildings or like the local centre, our community centre, where my playgroup's held, where my son will go there, the door there is quite stiff at the bottom so it's one door I have to pull it open and I have to stick my foot in and then use the rest of my body to really shove the door open. So I don't, it's just the initial pull and then getting my leg in behind it and then try and squeeze myself through the gap to force the door open if it's too heavy. So it's really difficult.
But if my husbands there he'll then help me out and he'll open all the doors and stuff and he carries all the heavy bags. At the shop I might get to carry the toilet rolls, the crisps and the bread, the really light items, whereas he's like a pack horse half the time, and because we've got the baby we've got that much stuff so he's got to take all the heavy stuff first and I take all the light stuff so, in that way, so you know what to compensate for.
We've got into the routine now where we know right, that's going to be too heavy for you to lift, so I've got to hand. If I'm going out with any of my friends and family, they know as well that I can't lift heavy bags and stuff, so they'll help me out and lift bags for me and open the doors and do things like that for me. If I'm preparing a meal, [husband's name] always there anyway to help me. Like making pots of soup, love making soup.
So he has to do all the peeling, the actual cutting up of the vegetables and stuff but I find a lot of the time you can buy frozen veg as well. So things like that, potatoes, instead of using potatoes, if It's just me and my son having dinner, then I'll just use instant Smash because I know then I can just mix that up, I don't need to stand and peel a potato and I don't need to go through the pain to make the dinner.
So there is things that I know I can do easier that I use every day certain things. There is things to help you out, automatic doors and things like that, that's great, they're the best invention in the world really. If you get the odd door you've got to pull, like I say, generally I get help or I use my whole body weight to try and open it.
- Age at interview:
- Age at diagnosis:
When cooking, I avoid cutting big things, hard things. I go for easy food. I was making some traditional food like, which needs lots of shoulder work and hand, like dough pastry and other stuff, I'm not doing this anymore.
Sometimes I get them ready made, although they've not very good, as I used to make them, I stopped because of the pain. Cleaning, sometimes I see that things need to be cleaned but I can't. Sometimes I force myself, although I have the pain, and I do the job, I do the cleaning and afterwards it goes worse I mean and I have to take the painkiller. Sometimes I request my children to do the things for me.
A man who worried about burning himself and often did not feel like cooking had frozen microwave meals delivered. Others recommended buying frozen meals for days when they needed to focus on managing a flare-up of pain. One woman said that when her family were young she would cook and freeze meals for the days when she didn't feel up to cooking.
- Age at interview:
- Medically retired crime reporter; divorced; 2 children.
What other sort of help are you going to be getting?
They're going to be doing housework, now I've also been put in contact with a company which delivers frozen meals. Which will save me a lot of cooking. Because I've got a large freezer there and a fridge freezer so I could probably put in about a fortnight's meals at a time.
And it's, that's saved a lot as well because it can get a bit dicey at that cooker at times. When you're in a bit of pain, it won't be the first time that I've burnt myself. Now I've got round that problem as well. Instead of getting by with a cup of tea and a bit of toast because I don't feel like it I just put a meal in the microwave and that's it done.
So for every problem that you seem to hit, if you look long and hard enough, there's an answer to it. There's no such thing as a thing can't be done, it can. Maybe not the way you want it to be done, or the way you would like it to be done, but it can always be done. And that is one of the limitations that you've got to accept.
- Age at interview:
- Age at diagnosis:
- Retired school secretary / housewife; married; 3 children.
Something else I learned as well, see more so anybody that has a young family, and this is what I found was quite good, I used to, on my good days I used to batch cook, more so when they were all still at school because it meant that if I was in hospital they still had full meals, all that had to be done was take it out the freezer in the morning and it was ready just for heating up at night, so that was another thing that I learned to do.
Maybe it was the only thing that I would do that day, would be cook, but that was me, I cooked that day, and I maybe changed the beds or washed the windows the following day and you definitely, over a period of time, you do accept it. I mean it still annoys me, I mean I was the type of person that if the whole house wasn't cleaned and the beds weren't made for half past ten or eleven o'clock there was something really wrong with me, but your whole outlook changes and the Pain Management Course that introduced me to the pain.
The pacing, also had, you know I mean everybody does everything their own way, so it was, I decided then because I was in the hospital - out the hospital and it always concerned me quite a bit about my husband and the children and make shift meals that they were having while I was in hospital, and that was when I decided that was it and I would come home and I would be back on my feet and I would batch bake which I did and cook.
And that was good and I more or less kept that up until about a year ago, well not even a year, and its just my husband and I that's in the house and still quite happy to cook two when you've been cooking for quite a few, and aye, you take the pace and that is only a kind of rough guide you know, you know do this one day and do this the next and don't reproach yourself for no being able to do too much in the one day.
Sometimes you can do that as well and that's not very good for your morale if you start to criticise yourself for something that's no really in your control anyway, but'
Internet grocery shopping and home delivery services were a blessing for many people. Some still preferred to go to the shops because it got them out of the house and kept them mobile. Being able to find a parking spot close to the shops was important, as was not having to queue for too long. If not possible, people would often leave the shopping to another day.
Friends and family often helped with carrying heavy items, although one woman who lived alone found it very upsetting that friends rarely offered to help.
A few people commented on obstacles when they were out and about. Some found stairs difficult and a couple of people commented about the struggle they had with heavy doors. A woman described automatic doors as a “godsend”.
Several people found gardening or DIY impossible although others had been able to continue doing them by pacing themselves. Gardening could be made easier with equipment such as pick up sticks, kneeling pads and devices to make digging less strenuous. One woman explained that her garden was organised so that it was easily maintained and she could kneel to work.
- Age at interview:
- Studying art/ incapacitated nursery nurse; married; 2 children.
My biggest lifesaver, I would say, has been getting back into art. I think, if you do have any illness or problem, you really do need something to give your life a purpose. And I garden as much as I can. I've organised my garden in such a way that it's very easy to maintain and very easy to garden.
I grow my own fruit and vegetables, which doesn't take as much time or energy or is as difficult as people may think. I have kneeling pads, I don't have special, don't use special tools, but I do use a kneeling pad. I'm a, I'm a knees gardener. I mean, if I get stuck I just call my husband and he comes and pulls me up.
Personal care such as shaving, washing hair, bathing, dressing and going to the toilet were sometimes limited and painful. However, people recognised the importance of not letting themselves go as this could lead to low self-esteem. A man explained that he had developed a routine and adapted his environment to make personal care as easy as possible.
- Age at interview:
- Medically retired logistic manager; Divorced living with long term partner; 3 children.
The thing we learnt in the program was, even if you were totally unwell, going to the toilet could be considered as a mobile exercise, you know, they just didn't want you to stay in bed, even, you know, to go to the toilet, they would encourage you to do some kind...
So you just go and there are days where you can't grip your razor and you don't shave, so if you don't shave that instantly sort of adds a minus to you going out, because people look at you and say, 'What an untidy fellow, he hasn't even shaved this morning', you know so... and its gone to where you don't want to explain yourself, so that dictates your day.
If you can't hold the razor and if you can't, I mean I have trouble, most of my like shaving foam, and tablet things are left half open because, there's no young kids now, so I can't unscrew things and I can't, some of the foam caps are quite tight, so you sort of, you can't hold it in your hand and press the... wee things like that, the button for the foam, so you leave it on the shelf and then press it and then try and get the shaving foam on you.
But if you're not in the mood then you just, you know, even the toothbrush is electric because you can't go manual. So you do that, you have a shower everything, you just' Showers at my height, even if other people go in they put it back to my height and my direction because I can't unscrew or do that, so you just press a button, the shower comes on, its set to my temperature as well, they know what temperature I like because its got all markings and things, and then you have that and then you take your time and again.
Another thing, like all my towels are big and fluffy because I can't really dry myself that thoroughly, it takes all that time, so even that is kind of separate, they know which is my towels and all that, you do that and then you just gradually slowly get dressed, and if you haven't shaved and if you haven't had anything to do, you just put your slippers on and not your shoes, and then you waddle down, and then the kettle's always sort of half full or a quarter full because I can't tip a full kettle.
It was important for people to have clothes that are comfortable, easy to put on and don't need ironing. Several people found small buttons difficult. One woman recalled going to bed in her blouse because her hands had been too painful to undo the buttons.
Putting on socks was difficult for many people with back pain and several women said that they were no longer able to wear tights which they found upsetting. One woman said she looked forward to the summer so she could wear a skirt without tights. Another had bought a device that helped her put on tights and socks.
A man with back pain said that he had discovered that finding comfortable footwear was important. Another man with pain from nerve damage wore clothing that was comfortable against his skin.
- Age at interview:
- Retired university teacher and author; married; 3 children.
One of the things that happens to me periodically is that I will go into, I don't know whether it's a spasm or whatever, but my legs will seize up completely, my spine seizes up and again I'll have waterworks problems and I will find that somehow my right hip feels as though it's somewhere underneath my armpit. And I become bent over and sometimes these spasms can last for a long time.
Then this is accompanied very often by tremendous pain in walking and in the last, or since the early 90's I've had several spells when I've had to take to a wheelchair. Now I don't know when these things, when this is going to happen, I don't know what causes it, except I've found that it seems to be associated with my choice of footwear.
I've found that by wearing, and I'm going to advertise here, Eco Boots, which are very expensive. But they somehow give me a tilt and a support that no other footwear ever does. And it was only by chance I stumbled upon getting a pair of Eco boots and I found that my walking, from going in a wheelchair, within a couple of weeks I was able to move much more freely with those.
And so when I walk or go out now I always have my Eco Boots. Sorry to keep advertising that, but they are absolutely fantastic and I would swear by them. Timberland also does the same job I've found since, but they're the only two makes of boots that I find I can wear.
Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated November 2012.