June 30, 2015

Pacing to Break the Pain Cycle

Are you trapped in a vicious cycle of pain flares brought on by overactivity? Learn how to pace the right way and break the cycle...

The Pain Cycle

Balancing chronic pain with our needs and wants is a struggle. Overactivity can easily flare symptoms for hours, days, or even weeks! Afterwards, prolonged rest to recover puts us further behind and at risk for overactivity again! 

Pacing can help us increase our activity levels without these consequences by keeping pain and fatigue levels more consistent. Pacing means we stop before symptoms start to flare. This allows for shorter rest periods and faster recovery so we can do more in the long run. 

But for pacing to work, it has to be done the right way. Task-based pacing is risky for a few reasons: we can get too involved and lose track of time, tasks can take longer than expected, or problems can lead to additional tasks. On the other hand, time-based pacing can keep us on track. Here’s how to do it:

Find Your Limits

Creating a pain journal is not only an important tool to help you explain your pain to doctors, but it’s also useful in learning to pace within your limits. Note how long it takes for your symptoms to worsen during specific positions (ex. standing, walking, sitting, etc).

Time Yourself

  • Use a timer to stop at least a few minutes before your limit and switch positions.
  • Alternate between demanding activities and more restful ones.
  • Schedule frequent short rest breaks (the more you can relax your body and mind, the faster you will recover; for more incentive, do something both relaxing and fun on some breaks).
  • Rest extra before, during, and after special events.
  • Plan where you will take your breaks (for example, you can often find chairs at the pharmacy area of a grocery store, in clothing changing rooms, or in restrooms).

Listen to Your Body

Don’t try to push through severe pain  you will end up needing prolonged rest again. If you’re having a bad day, shorten your active time and increase your rest time. Try to do some activity so you don't fall back into the vicious pain cycle. When you feel better, gradually progress to your regular schedule.

Pace Even on "Good Days"

If you don’t consistently pace, it may backfire and you won’t be able to do anything later that day, the next day, or more! Focus on preventing pain flares and turning that one good day into days. Once you're having more good days, you can try slowly increasing your active time.

Discipline Quote
Pacing takes discipline, but it’s worth it to break the vicious pain cycle, feel better, and do more! As with anything, don’t expect perfection  but the more you can pace the better. Choose Discipline Over Regret!


Self Management Skills & Techniques: Pacing. 
University of Michigan Health System website. Available at:
Accessed May 30, 2015

Pacing Yourself with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. 
About Health website. Available at:
Accessed June 17, 2015

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