Empathy and Learning How to Live With Back Pain

Empathy and Learning How to Live With Back Pain

Let me tell you a story of how I learned to help my mother live with back pain.

For the last couple of years I’ve come face to face with what some call ‘’labor force non-participants.” They  are often  spoken of in terms of statistics. Well, I’ve gotten close enough to smell their cigarette breath and see their teary eyes. In short, I made a real connection. Making an honest effort to understand someone’s problem is a big deal in learning to communicate effectively and positively with a loved one who has to live with back pain—more about that soon. For now, here’s the story.

I was doing some research at a job-training center when I first heard him.

“ I hate this God damn online shit!” he shouted. “ I work with my hands. Why do I need this computer crap?”

The angry man caught my attention

Tips on coping with anger

Coping with Anger


I walked over to him and offered my help.  

The man was having a problem

sending his resume to a job site.

The problem was a lot more than pushing buttons

“I’m a grown man and I feel like dumb shit,” he said.

This was a man who felt he didn’t fit in— that the world didn’t need him. This was not a  cold-impersonal statistic. He was so agitated that he was almost spiting out his words, and then he lowered his voice. He was embarrassed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so loud.”

“Don’t worry about it. “

I sat next to him and checked out the problematic web site. Eventually we were able to successfully sent out his resume and get a contact number for follow up.

It’s hard to look at the face of someone who has a desperate need to prove his or her self worth. You can’t just dismiss them as a labor force non-participant. You just try your best to help.

The connection is empathy

The capacity to relate empathically plays a major role in successfully helping a loved one live with back pain. It says I’m making a sincere effort to see the world from your point of view. To me that means understanding such things as :

Pain Can Be A Distraction.

Pain can be like radio static

Pain can be like radio static


Imagine trying to listen to your favorite song on the radio and all you get is static. Think of how frustrating it is when you just can’t get that damn radio to get rid of the static. Well, pain is distracting in a similar way. It’s not usual for a person living with daily pain to keep asking you to repeat yourself. They are not doing that to annoy you. They are fighting the pain–the static–and trying to tune in to what you’re saying.

Pain can be loud

Pain can be loud

Pain Can Exaggerate Sound.

Let’s talk about your TV. Do you ever notice that the sound goes up whenever a commercial comes on? Fortunately you have the option of adjusting the volume. For people living with chronic pain, adjusting that volume is something that they have to do often—even if others think that every thing sounds “normal”.


You must show the capacity to share pain.

We need to show empathy

We need to show empathy

This means genuinely wanting to know how a loved one suffering from daily pain is coping. I have discussions every day with my mother about how she is feeling.  It’s my way of saying, “I understand what you’re going through.”

That said, Back pain doesn’t have to define one’s life.  Yes, I know that a lot of people don’t really understand how hard it is to live with back pain. I can assure you that my statement in no way is meant to minimize the struggles but rather to celebrate the courage that I see everyday with people such as my mother living a productive life. We have a great time talking about sports, news, politics, and books. I always enjoy her insights. She is the most practical person I know. In fact, friends still call her for advice on such things as purchasing a home.

It boils down to this: one of the best ways to help a loved one deal with back pain is to demonstrate  empathy.

I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.


  1. Brittni Sue

    I enjoyed your story about the angry man with the computer. You just never know what all someone is dealing with in their lives, and having empathy is so important in all our connections. I work in Customer Service, and having empathy for their issues goes a long way in dealing with them. My Mom also dealt with a lot of pain from arthritis and had hearing issues too. We had a very close relationship … and I always tried to express empathy and understanding for what she had to deal with on a daily basis. She has now passed on, and I miss her dearly and still admire her so much!

    • admin

      Hi Brittni,

      I also work in Customer Service and you’re right. Empathy is a way of making a customer feel “whole again” after dealing with a difficult issue. I understand where you’re coming from. As for your mom, she’ll always be in your heart. I lost my dad years ago and I still miss him. Every once in a while, though, something happens and I realize that he’s still with me. I look deep in my heart and I can feel him. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that the love you and your mom shared is not gone. When you need her. Just look into your heart and she’ll be there.


      • Thanks for your kind words, Thabo! It means so much ….. and what you say is so true. There are many situations that come along where I know that a special angel is still watching out for me. Take Care!

  2. Tanya

    This is a great article on back pain. My husband suffers from back and neck pain on a daily basis. Even takes prescribed pain meds for it. He was recently involved in an accident just this past week. The truck flipped 4 times and surprisingly he walked out with no scratches. But OH BOY… does his back and neck hurt even worse now. He had surgery on his neck from a previous accident about 4 years ago. He did go to the ER this past week and luckily for him nothing is out of place. He just has to deal with the pain. Even though I don’t suffer the pain, I feel for him to go through this on a daily basis and still have to manage life. Great Article!

    • admin


      Let me first wish you the very best with your husband. I remember the first time my mom came home after her back surgery. She was in the living room and had asked me to make her a cup of tea. When I came out of the kitchen I saw her in a way that was new to me. Her face was a mask of pain, and the sight hit me so hard that I just froze. The tea got cold and I had to make another cup.

      This web site that I am working on is dedicated to people such as you. It’s so easy to feel that no one really understands what you’re going through. You’re not alone. I have been where you are now. You’ll always have my support.


  3. Nancy

    Having empathy for anyone in a challenging situation is a must in today’s world. Sometimes just being able to listen is very helpful in a person’s attitude toward their situation. I like how you introduced your topic with the story of the man and computer stuff.

    I think sometimes we dismiss people who have back pain because of others in the past who have claimed back pain and injury and didn’t really have it. It makes it bad for those who really suffer. I am glad your mom has such a great attitude in spite of her suffering.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • admin


      Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s important to me that people suffering from back pain or the loved ones who take care of them feel that they have someone in me who really understands what they are going through. As for mom, she continues to inspire me. She is one of the reasons I am doing this. Take care and good health to you.


  4. rowena

    I gained a lot of helpful information from your post, I deal with moderate back pain, I’ve had back surgery(minor) and know there are ways to get relief other than strong pain killers all the time, which can become addictive. I would like to see more color on your site. I like the site.

    • admin

      Hi Rowena,

      Thanks for the kind words. People such as you are the reason I am determined to create a web site that feels accessible. Thanks for the tip about the color. I will sure address that going foreword. Take care.


  5. Nemira

    Hello here, thanks for inspiring story and showing way how to deal in the situation where somebody is lost.
    You are right that the empathy can help in the long run or just at the moment of need.
    Native Americans have saying that nobody can understand others without walking in their shoes. You wrote about the back pain. It is a situation when can be unpleasant feelings and interference with regular life.
    I wonder if something could be done besides empathy to ease pain? There are are various therapies, supplements.
    All the best, be healthy and wealthy, Nemira.

    • Thabo Nkomo

      Hi Nemira,

      It’s great to hear from you again. There are indeed various therapies that one can use to combat chronic back pain. Among these therapies are:


      Once seen as bizarre, acupuncture is rapidly becoming a mainstream treatment for pain.

      Physical Therapy

      The goal of a PT program is to increase strength and flexibility gradually, beginning with gentle gliding exercises.


      This therapy has significant benefit in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

      Applications of Heat and Cold

      Occupational and Recreational Therapy

      Supplements and Vitamins

      There is evidence, as you pointed out, that certain dietary supplements and vitamins can help with certain types of pain.

      With all this treatments available to the pain sufferer, empathy still plays a big part in healing. Why? Because unlike scars that can be seen, back pain is invisible and pain sufferers can look “good” and feel horrible. Just because they were able to do something yesterday doesn’t mean they can do it today. As a caregiver to a mother who suffers from chronic pain, I have become aware of the importance of having and showing empathy.

      Thanks again for checking in. I wish you the best.

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