Week 3 – Chronic pain self-management: breaking the pain and symptom cycle

Me - heading out for my 5K neighbourhood run

Heading out for a 5K neighbourhood run

Well, it’s about 11:30pm right now. My wife Marjory and our two children are sound asleep, so it’s all quiet around the house.

I’m sitting here in my comfy red leather chair writing my blog with my earphones on, listening to some exquisite choral harmonies from musica intima. For me, their music is pleasure and therapy personified, and the perfect companion for my late night writing.

As a volunteer Chronic Pain Self-Management Program workshop facilitator with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Aging, one of the great joys for me is simply getting to know and help the courageous men and women that come to our workshops.

I learn so much as they share their stories and we work together within a warm, caring, non-judgmental and confidential workshop environment.

The source of chronic pain for participants that attend our workshops varies a great deal. Many of them are dealing with musculoskeletal pain such as chronic neck, shoulder and back pain.

Others are experiencing chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, whiplash injuries, chronic regional pain syndromes, repetitive strain injuries, chronic pelvic pain, post-surgical pain that lasts beyond 6 months, neuropathic pain that’s often caused by trauma, neuralgias such as post-herpetic pain and trigeminal neuralgia, post stroke or central pain, persistent headaches, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes-related neuropathy, and severe muscular pain due to conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

A rainy morning - Fraser River 5K

Rainy morning – Fraser River 5K

Early in the workshop, our participants are introduced to some fundamental tools and techniques that they will need to become good chronic pain self-managers.

Brainstorming and Problem-Solving for example, are introduced in the first week’s session and used extensively during the next 5 weekly sessions. I will share more on these tools and techniques in a later blog.

Similarly, our participants develop their first weekly Action Plan for the upcoming week at the end of their first week’s workshop session. Each participant’s plan must identify something specific that they want, rather than have, to do during the upcoming week. It must be something that’s beneficial from a self-management perspective, and something that’s achievable, action-specific and measurable.

It’s also essential that participants have a high level of confidence that their entire action plan will be completed during the upcoming week.

Using a ‘buddy system’, participants check in with their buddy during the week to discuss their action plans and to offer each other support and assistance.

Mundy Park 5K

Lush forest – Mundy Park 5K

We then discuss how we all did at the beginning of the next workshop, offering feedback as required.

Action planning, brainstorming and problem solving are some of the cornerstone self-management tools and techniques that we learn early, and then gain experience with, throughout the 6-week workshop.

Most participants continue to use these tools after the workshop finishes, since the tools are now an essential part of their own self-management discipline.

During the workshop, our participants typically get to know each other quickly and quite well. They soon realize that the more they put into the workshop, the more they will get out of the workshop.

Most participants are soon comfortable enough to participate and give freely of themselves during every activity.

For many, our workshop is the first time they have been among a group of people that really understands their chronic pain and believes them. It’s a relief for many participants because they no longer feel alone!

Wild roses - Fraser River 5K

Wild roses – Fraser River 5K

Prior to attending our workshop, many participants think that chronic pain is the sole reason for their symptoms.

They are often surprised to learn that their symptoms can themselves contribute to or even cause other symptoms.

This pain and symptom cycle soon becomes a viscous circle that keeps going around and around, until a way is found to break the cycle.

We refer to this interaction as the Pain and Symptom Cycle.

Here’s a brief overview of the cycle:

– Pain
– Tense muscles
– Restricted movement
– Ineffective breathing
– Stress and anxiety
– Difficult emotions
– Depression
– Fatigue
– Pain

One of the primary goals of our chronic pain workshop is to give the participants the ability to recognize this pain and symptom cycle.

Ferns - Mundy Park 5K

Ferns – Mundy Park 5K

Additionally, we want to provide people with a set of tools that will help them break the cycle. We refer to this set of tools as our Self-Management Tool Box.

Here is a list of those tools:

– Physical activity and exercise
– Managing fatigue
– Pacing and planning
– Medications
– Working with health care professionals
– Problem-solving
– Using your mind
– Healthy eating
– Communications
– Understanding emotions
– Finding resources

Patience is a virtue - Fraser River 5K

Patience is a virtue – Fraser River 5K

Over the weeks that follow, I will share with you my knowledge and experience with the chronic pain and symptom cycle and how these self-management tools can help you break the cycle.

Perhaps the most gratifying and fulfilling experience as a workshop facilitator is to watch a group of individuals undergo such an amazing change in perspective over the course of a 6-weeks workshop.

They are seemingly transformed into a group of strong, positive, self-disciplined, and determined people who are now fully committed to their own chronic pain self-management; and also to helping other people in need. It’s a wonderful thing and truly a joy to behold!

I will close, as always, by saying that if you or someone close to you is dealing with chronic pain and you are an adult living in BC, I strongly encourage you to consider taking the chronic pain self-management workshop. Please use the link below to find out more information.

Have a great week!

UVic colour - horizontal -NO Centre-crest on lhs

John Murphy is a volunteer Program Leader with the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, based in Ladner, BC. He currently facilitates their 6 week Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops (2½ hour per week) available free of charge across BC, to adults and caregivers who are dealing with chronic pain.

For more information on our Chronic Pain Self-Management workshop and other free of charge workshops, follow this link to our website:


Other Self-Management workshop and programs include:
– Arthritis Fibromyalgia
– Chronic Disease
– Diabetes



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