Chronic Pain

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Last reviewed August 2018.

Last updated November 2012.


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