Helping someone heal: How your support can help

If you have a loved one who is living with chronic pain or is recovering from a medical procedure, such as surgery, your support can make a huge difference in their healing process.

In the last five years or so, researchers have begun to pay more attention to how friendship and social networks can positively affect a person’s overall health. An Australian study that followed 1,500 people for 10 years found that those with a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told WebMD, “Friends help you face adverse events. They provide material aid, emotional support and information that helps you deal with the stressors.”

So, how can you be more supportive to someone? Let’s say, for the all intents and purposes, you’re here because you or someone you know is suffering from neck or back pain. This could be a condition in the process of being helped by a physician or orthopedic surgeon, or it could be a chronic pain that brings with it good days and bad. On those bad days, you want to help your friend, but you’re not sure what to say or do. Below, some tips on being your most supportive self:

  • Ask specifically “What can I do to help?” Then, follow it up with a few suggestions, such as “Could I mow your lawn or run to the grocery store for you today?” Saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” puts the burden of asking for assistance off your loved one, and they may be too embarrassed to follow through.
  • Avoid the line, “I’m sure it’ll get better.” You may think you’re helping them feel better, but it can sound dismissive and unsympathetic to what they’re dealing with.
  • Just listen. Sometimes, someone in pain just needs to vent. Let them pour out their emotions and respond with supportive statements like, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
  • Give a helpful gift. Massage can often help pain sufferers, so think about gifting them with a massage gift certificate. Or, make a healing gift basket that includes healthy home remedies, such as a heating pad, pain-relief gel, an inspirational book, vitamins and healthy treat, like fresh fruit.
  • Take them away. While pain can be a deterrent to traveling very far, offering to get your friend out of their house for a little while, to somewhere close by, could be a welcome distraction from what they’re going through. Maybe it’s a botanical garden, a lake or their favorite restaurant.

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