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For a lot of arthritis sufferers, chronic pain is a way of life. And while we look functional and mobile to the outside world, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. For instance, we know as chronic pain sufferers know that life doesn’t stop because our joints hurt, or because we feel intense fatigue. We’re still expected to go to work and honor social engagements—and we often go through extraordinary lengths to be OK for the people around us.

We’re also often subject to a lot of unwarranted comments about how we’re handling our health. Most mean well, but there are instances where these words can be unintentionally cold and hurtful. So if you’re reading this and have someone in your life who suffers from arthritis or chronic illness, take note of these top things that you should never say to someone living with chronic pain.


1. “But you don’t look sick…”

There is a lot of effort that goes into NOT looking like we’re sick. For many, it takes all their strength just so they can show up to their class or their jobs as if they’re ok. The comment may be well-meaning, but it just reminds us of the fact that we are in fact sick. It also makes us feel like the only way we can validate our condition is to actually look like we’re sick—and the last thing chronic pain sufferers want to do is to have to prove to the world that we are indeed in pain.

What you can say instead–

“I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Let me know what I can do to help.”

“I understand that you’re in pain—whether I can see it or not.”


2. “Just stay positive!”

Constantly telling us to stay positive in spite of what we’re going through denies any and all experiences we’re presently going through with our illness—particularly the very valid feelings of pain that we are experiencing now. Ignoring the physical, emotional, mental challenges of our illness by telling us that we can solve it by thinking positive or that it could be worse makes us feel like our experience isn’t credible and valid. Managing chronic pain every day can be very overwhelming. Don’t gloss over it.

What you can say instead–

“I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time with your illness.”

“What can I do to support you through this?”

“It’s OK not to be OK sometimes.”


3. “You’re always in pain or feeling tired.”

Unfortunately, always being in pain and feeling tired is the baseline for most people living with chronic pain. Rest assured, none of us chooses to feel this way. If we had a choice between going out for a nightcap after work with friends versus heading home to curl up into a ball of joint pain and exhaustion, we would choose the former. Unfortunately, days when we don’t feel tired or in pain are rare, few and far between. And any time we’re told “you’re always in pain or feeling tired”, we’re just reminded of our limitations and challenges. It’s not reassuring or encouraging in any way.

What you can say instead–

“You’re handling your condition pretty well.”

“Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you today?”


4. “A friend of mine/ family member had the same thing—they’re OK now.”

We know this is meant to be uplifting and encouraging, but everybody is different. While we may all suffer from the same illness, arthritis impacts people very differently. What might work for one, may not for another. Even our medications vary so much from one person to the next.

What you can say instead–

“I appreciate you sharing your personal experience with this illness with me.”


5. “But you’re too young to have arthritis”

We feel this more than you can possibly imagine—especially since arthritis is a condition that doesn’t just affect the elderly, as most assume. With our condition, you can be 25 and feel like your joints are 90 years old. So yes, we know we are indeed too young to have arthritis. But illness isn’t exclusive to old age. Fact is, there are more and more people who are getting diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis earlier in their lifetime.

What you can say instead–

“I’m here for you. Let me know what I can do.”

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