Chronic Pain and Social Norms

row of lightbulbs with only one illuminated

Last week I shared a short video about a young woman with chronic pain on the studio’s Facebook page. To manage the pain, Raquel needs to lie down on her back frequently during the day. This is not an issue if she is at home or at a friend’s house.

The problem arises when she is in public, for there are very few good places to lie down.

And then there is the issue of it not being socially acceptable to lie down in public. At least in our Western culture.

In the video and accompanying radio interview, Raquel talks about dealing with the stares, comments, and (yes) alarms she has set off, lying down in public.

Without you even realizing it, many of your behaviors—how you move about your life, how you interact with others, how and where you work and rest—are dictated by social norms.

In some cases, these social norms may have caused you to develop postural and movement habits that are negatively impacting you.

Something as simple as how you habitually bend over to pick things up may have been learned within a narrow window of socially acceptable movement—and developed into something that is now risking your low back every time you do it.

If you have pain or discomfort and it is related to your Posture and Use, one thing you will want to explore is doing some everyday things differently.

Raquel is an extreme case. But her experiences of dealing with the repercussions of not behaving within a socially prescribed window of normal behavior is something that you may come up against as well if you start doing some things differently.

And let’s face it, that’s often uncomfortable. I know I don’t like to stand out and draw unwanted attention to myself.

But my desire to feel better has trumped that and I have gradually gotten bolder as I have gotten older.

Often simply talking to the people around you and explaining why you are doing what you are doing diffuses the situation.

  • When I am a guest at someone’s house and I need to lie down I will simply explain that I need to take care of my back and I am going to lie down on the carpet in the living room.
  • If I am going to be in a long meeting I will talk to the person in charge to let them know that I most likely will get up and stand at the back of the room during the meeting from time to time to take care of my back. That way when I do, they won’t be likely to stop everything and ask if I am OK.

Other times you just have to be brave and be different. Even if it means you stand out like a sore thumb.

The woman in London has started a campaign to get more public spaces built where people can take a break and literally lie down.

This is a two-fold process. Creating more spaces and changing social norms. The first may be the easier of the two.

Kudos to her!

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  • Bickey Bender April 12, 2018, 10:38 am

    Interesting article, Lauren.
    Thanks for sharing. There are many things we need to understand rather than make snap judgements upon peoples behaviors.

    • Lauren Hill April 14, 2018, 10:13 am

      This is true. It’s good to keep top of mind that we typically make judgements based on what we know from our own experience.


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