Chronic Pain as a College Student

Having chronic pain problems as a college student sucks. There are multiple problems and too many compromises that need to be made. You can’t just live a normal life, and the ability to be spontaneous does not easily happen. Everything is affected, from the living situation, to study habits and working with groups and exam schedules can be a problem. Name the situation, and it may be a problem, especially if you just want to be normal.

Chronic Pain in College

No day is typical, and just starting the day may be a problem. Waking up in the morning is often very painful. First, one may not have slept very well because pain kept waking you up at night, or it was extremely restless. Then one is sore and you need to start stretching and doing some morning exercises just to get moving. There is no last minute rolling out of bed and running off to class, you just can’t move fast without the morning routine.

Chronic Pain in College

Once you are at class, most lecture rooms and other classrooms have bad stadium seats or very uncomfortable chairs without any back support. Sitting in these chairs worsens the back and neck pain, and trying to take notes and concentrate is an effort. If you are lucky, they may provide a special chair to sit in, but good luck at getting the right seating in every classroom. It is also weird when you need to get up for a minute, stand in the back of the room and stretch to help relieve the pain. Lastly, making to the professor’s office hours when you are in pain is an added burden. Then you may also need to explain the need for accommodations due to your situation, adding again more stress to the pain.

As the day goes on, your back and neck may start to hurt more. Standing, stretching or walking around may not help and the best option for your back may be to lie down. Well, there are not many places to rest and lay down on campus.

After you made it through your classes, then there is the homework, group projects, and social life. Studying may be a challenge at times due to back pain and fatigue. Concentration is reduced by pain and more breaks are needed. Planning ahead is essential and leaving stuff to the last minute does not work since you may be having a bad day with pain at the wrong time. Further stress will worsen the pain, lower the concentration ability, and it definitely increases as deadlines for tests and big projects near. The group projects for some classes also are often a problem, you have to ignore your pain needs often to match the schedules of everyone else in the group, and at the end of the day, you may be just about in tears since you hurt so much and you still have a ton of stuff to get done.

Chronic Pain and Your Social Life

A big part of college is developing oneself in a new social environment. One wants to be just like everyone else, carefree and happy. When you are sleep deprived from pain, stressed out, and uncomfortable sitting in most chairs or standing long times, participating in social activities is tough. Ignoring the pain works at times, but sometimes it comes back to bite you and you are down for the count for several days because you did too much. Normal kids do all those things without a problem, for you it can be a nightmare, and you are physically sick for a week afterward.

There is no secret solution for having success as a college student when having chronic pain. It is a constant effort to be your best, and keep moving forward. Those who do manage this tight rope act are some of the toughest, smartest and grittiest kids imaginable. It takes a huge amount of effort, often alone and without good medical guidance. There are very few doctors who understand the challenges and can adequately help find the additional resources to ease some of the problems. Furthermore, there are few resources and pain treatments that make a difference for many young adults. The struggle is very real, and the problems of living with chronic pain just sucks.

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Thomas Cohn, MD

Interventional pain doctor helping Minnesotans manage back, neck, foot, and other pain. Board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with additional board-certification in pain management from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP) and the American Board of Pain Medicine (ABPM).