One of the social challenges a person with chronic pain sometimes faces is
that friends, family and
medical professionals don’t believe the individual is in pain, or they downplay the
pain. A narrative review by Newton et al. (2013) addressed this issue and discovered that people in chronic pain are impacted in three main ways: stigmatization, isolation and emotional distress. The authors proposed the following tips for medical professionals and others working one-on-one with someone in chronic pain (the tips have been adapted for fitness professionals):

  • Be aware that if you explain pain from a psychological point of view (“It’s all in your head”), the client may experience this as a denial of her pain, and her anxiety around the situation may increase. If there is a valid psychological issue, refer the client to a trained mental health professional.
  • Be cognizant that a client may find it stressful to talk about his pain. Offer space in the session for this.
  • Validate the client’s story of her pain. This helps develop a shared understanding and addresses the feelings of isolation and frustration that can stem from not being taken seriously.
  • Empower the client with several safe programming options. This is a vital step toward countering the feelings of helplessness and the lack of control that many people experience in the face of persistent pain.

To read more about understanding the biological, psychological and social ramifications of pain, please see “The Many Dimensions of Pain” in the online IDEA Library or in the February 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


Newton, B.J., et al. 2013. A narrative review of the impact of disbelief in chronic pain. Pain Management Nursing, 14 (3), 161-71.

Anthony Carey, MA

Anthony Carey, MA, owns Function First in San Diego, California. He holds a master?s degree in biomechanics and athletic training, and is an internationally-recognized speaker on biomechanics, posture, motor control and musculoskeletal pain and function. As a best-selling author, his work has been featured in the New York Times and Time Magazine. Anthony is also the inventor of the Core-Tex.

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.