Techniques that everyone can try
Herman considers pacing to be one of the most helpful self-management tools: “Most everybody realizes that if you do too much, you’re going to have a flare-up or relapse.”
The U.S. Pain Foundation conducted a nationwide survey earlier this year. 2,275 individuals living with chronic pain responded. Interestingly, when asked, “What techniques, skills, or knowledge do you find most helpful when it comes to self-management?”, 73% of respondents with chronic pain found activity restriction to be the most helpful self-management technique.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Pacing is considered to be a multifaceted coping strategy, including broad themes of not only adjusting activities, but also planning activities, having consistent activity levels, acceptance of current abilities and gradually increasing activities, and one that includes goal setting as a key facet. The aims of activity pacing include to reduce overactivity-underactivity cycling (fluctuating between high and low levels of activity) in order to improve overall function and reduce the likelihood of exacerbating symptoms.”
Another self-management technique that Herman identifies effective for chronic pain is breathing, as she finds it’s an easy technique to learn. The London Pain Clinic explains, “Diaphragmatic breathing has an extremely therapeutic effect on chronic pain. It has a major influence on relaxing the muscles which tense up as a result of pain and in turn further aggravate the pain itself.”
Guided imagery is also an important self-management technique that Herman teaches.
“A lot of men, some women, but mostly men, have a hard time doing guided imagery,” she shares. “What I do is just ask them to think of something that they love and that they’re passionate about. This one guy loved fishing, so I told him to picture being in the store, buying bait, going to the boat, putting the bait on the line, and casting into the water. I guided him through the whole process. At the end, when he opened his eyes, I said, “How was it?” He said it was good, and I told him he just did guided imagery.”
She adds, “A lot of people get nervous or anxious that they aren’t going to do it right or that it’s not going to work. So it’s really about trying to work with somebody to see what they will accept and then developing the skill to fit them.”