Pacing and Chronic Pain

Do you have chronic pain, like me?  Have you been trying to manage your pain?  Me too.  I’ve lately learned about pacing.  There is a relationship between pacing and chronic pain. 

I’m in a class for pain management.  In this class we are learning several tools to manage our pain.  One of the topics was about pacing.  Since I wanted to know more about this topic, I decided writing an article would be the best way to learn.  

It is my hope you benefit from this article and that it helps you manage your pain.

What is Pacing?

Does horse racing or long distance running come to mind when you see this word? Great!  Then you get the idea.  I never was much into horse racing, though I did ride horses when I was younger.  And I didn’t do distance running, but my daughter did, so she had to learn about pacing.

Pacing and Chronic Pain

Pacing is defined in the Oxford dictionary as doing something at a slow and steady rate or speed in order to avoid overexerting yourself.  The key here is that you pace so that you don’t overextend your body or yourself.

In terms of pain management pacing is used as a therapy option.  I like it because it is a natural choice, and therefore has no side effects!  Basically, the technique means spacing out your activities throughout the day so that you don’t aggravate your pain and cause it to get worse. 

For a scientific explanation you can refer to this article from NIH.  

This is really a challenge for those of us who feel we have to finish a task, especially in a set amount of time.  Or especially if you feel better that day and decide to catch up on all the chores you have put off because you didn’t feel well.

But pacing provides a step by step, little by little, advancement toward your goals.  With this practice you can hopefully accomplish your goals without pain flare ups.  

Who Can Practice pacing?

This technique is for those of us in pain, and especially chronic pain.  I think anyone in this situation, who can actually move, can practice this technique.  Check with your physician first though, to make sure it is recommended for you.

Pacing and Chronic Pain

The practice will take discipline.  However, I believe it will be worth it.  We are already limited in our activities because of the pain.  Now we are going to impose some other limits, but in the long run it will be worth it.  

I like to look at it as imposing limits on our pain.  Pain tends to dictate much of our day.  By pacing, we are taking some power away from the pain and giving ourselves more power. 

How to Practice Pacing

While different programs recommend different processes, I have attempted to combine the current wisdom here and provide you with general guidelines. I recommend you adjust the process as you add it to your life.  

Here are the steps:

  1. Determine a baseline.  This means to determine how long you can do something without a pain flare up.  Personally I back this up a bit.  I try to not do any one activity for more than half an hour.  You may be able to go longer, or you may not be able to do even half an hour.  Keep track of your personal limits. 
  2. So within that framework determine what your baseline is.  You will need a timer or some sort of alarm tracker.  Your baseline may be different for different activities.  Personally, I can stand for only a few minutes before I start hurting, but I can sit for half an hour (at which time my timer goes off).
  3. As you practice this, make notes of how you feel after and how long you worked.  It is vital you keep some sort of record or chart to track your pain levels, type of activity and time.  
  4. Adjust your activity accordingly once you have this information.  
  5. Set short term goals, especially as they relate to a long term goal.  We all know you have to break up a big project into small steps.  Do the same for every activity you are involved in.  If you are looking at just the big picture you might get freaked out and that causes stress.
  6. Learn to say “no”, or “I can’t”.  Maybe you can negotiate a different time schedule or plan the activity to a day when you can say “yes”.  

Here’s a great article that outlines the practice and even has a link to a chart to get you started.  And it is where I got the following video.  Pacing and Goal Setting.

What I Learned From Practicing Pacing

I have been practicing pacing for some time, but I didn’t know it was called that.  I was merely going about my day, and would notice when I hurt more.  Then I would go over what I did that day.  

If I made the mistake of pushing myself to walk more than I should have, I paid for it with more pain.  Or if I was involved in writing an article for this website, I would lose track of time and sit too long.  Standing too long hurts also.  So I have to sit down for a minute in between cooking and cleaning up the kitchen.  

I am able to take back control of my day.  Pain isn’t the boss.  Sure, I still have pain, but managing it with pacing has made me more productive.  Don’t you want that? If you need a helpful app to begin some exercises, see my review of the Kaia app here.

What about you?  What do you do to manage your pain?

Are you willing to try this out to see if it might help you?  You really have nothing to lose.  What do you have to change?

A Story

I heard of a grandma who had back pain.  She would take her grandson to soccer practice and wait in the car for the 2.5 hour practice.  The next day she had a pain flare up.  After talking to her doctor, and discussing her activities, the doctor concluded the problem might be the fact that she was sitting for so long.  

He recommended she take a break and walk for two 15 minute periods instead of sitting the whole time.  Guess what?  Her flare ups stopped!

Practical Pain Management has some great articles.  You might want to investigate this article; Realistic Pacing of Pain Patients’ Activities.

Some Conclusions

Getting used to pacing yourself will take work.  If you are like me, you have a list of projects for the day.  And you push yourself to accomplish them.  You might even feel guilty for taking it easy or not finishing your list.  

But this behavior leaves you exhausted, tired, frustrated and probably in more pain.  So balance and self care need to enter the picture.  Additionally, our worries about finances and work add further stress.  Stress = pain flare ups.  Learning to manage stress is perhaps for another post.  What do you think?

Pacing and Chronic Pain


First, remember I am not a healthcare professional.  Consult your doctor before starting any new regiment.  They may even have better advice to start this plan.

It is my hope that you will be helped by this article.  And especially that you will experience less pain.  Please comment, especially if you have used this practice.  How did it work for you?  Or comment if you have questions.  I will do my best to answer them.

One More Thought

Building this website and my other site ( has been a wonderful option for me.  Because I am in pain, a regular job wasn’t an option.  I can set my own limits and work at my own pace.  If you think building a website might be for you, check out the platform I use.  It’s called Wealthy Affiliate and here’s the link.  If you join, I receive a referral fee.

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