Lesson 10 of 10
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10) Managing Setbacks

I-Engage May 3, 2021

In this lesson, you will learn how to manage setbacks with your pain.

Setbacks are very common in managing pain. They can occur for many reasons. You could compare them to what athletes sometimes experience. For athletes, setbacks can occur due to injury, burning out, or mental blocks. A setback with pain is similar and is often linked to fatigue or difficulties with pacing or mental health.

Sometimes, a setback can be caused by changes in your medication. However, they can also occur for no obvious reason at all.

man looking distressed in bed staring at the alarm clock with his hand against his head.

How to Deal with Setbacks:

Manage setbacks with a setback plan

To cope with setbacks and reduce the stress, panic, or sadness that they can cause, it is helpful to have a plan. Making a setback plan now means you’ll be more prepared for when it happens.

Here are some ideas for strategies to include in your setback plan:

1)Reduce activity, but not completelyCut back on normal activities for a few days. Take small breaks more often. When relaxing, lay or sit down to release tension in the body using breathing techniques. Bed rest can weaken muscle strength rapidly (you can lose about 1% of total muscle strength per day). So, try to stay active, gently. Keep moving to speed recovery and shorten setbacks. Be kind to yourself. Avoid any big or stressful demands until you feel a bit better.
Don’t be too proud or scared to ask for help from others; support helps most in setbacks.
2)PacingRemember to pace yourself by continuing to carry out gentle movement to regain flexibility. Start on the same day as the setback if you can. Your body will work with you if you take it gently, steadily, and often. Check your I-Engage app for more about pacing.  Build up the time you spend stretching and moving. Keeping active is the key.
3)RelaxationPractice relaxation or mindfulness breathing. Do things that soothe and calm you. Know your go-to relaxation support. It could be listening to music, knitting, doodling, petting your cat or dog, and whatever else works for you.
4)Refocus your thinkingControl your negative thoughts. Do not think of the setback as the worst thing that could happen to you. This places your mind into a negative spiral of thought, which will negatively affect your mood and pain. The sooner you accept that you have a setback, the sooner you can use your setback plan. Be grateful to yourself that you now have a plan to help get back on track.
A couple meditating together, sitting cross-legged on their living room floor.

Coping with chronic pain flare-ups

Flare-ups, or dramatic increases in pain levels, are often part of chronic pain. How often they occur and how long they last varies from person to person.

Unfortunately, you might need to accept that flare-ups will happen. This is necessary so you can develop ways of managing your pain so that you are less likely to experience them.

Flare-ups are often triggered by overactivity; although, it may not affect you until later. They can also be triggered by sleeping awkwardly, cold weather, stress, diet, or several other reasons. Tracking your symptoms and habits can help you identify your triggers. You can do this using the I-Engage app!

Pacing and goal setting can help you avoid and manage flare ups. There are many ways to maintain, change, and continue to build on your success to increase confidence.

Managing Setbacks

1)People with pain experience setbacks for many reasons – and sometimes for no obvious reason at all
2)Having a setback plan ready can help you get back on track quickly
3)Cutting back on activity, but still being gently active is helpful
4)Using your pacing skills is more important than ever during a setback
5)Remember to be kind to yourself and know that it will pass


In conclusion, there is much you can do to adapt to life with chronic pain. Understanding your body and what helps you function better is the key. Remember, everyone is different; so, what helps one person may not help you.

The process of discovering what helps you can be difficult and lengthy. But, we’re hopeful that this guide may assist you in trying new techniques and adding more tools to your pain management toolbelt.

To summarize, the concepts we’ve covered in this course included:

  • The mechanisms of the perception of pain
  • How acceptance is the first step of managing your pain
  • Pacing to manage your activity levels
  • Setting goals to stay on track or improve your pain management
  • Becoming and staying active with low-impact exercises
  • How to manage your moods, and how negative moods can affect your pain
  • The connection between sleep and pain, and how to get better sleep
  • How to manage your diet, relationships, and work despite chronic pain
  • The importance of relaxation and mindfulness when pain complicates your life
  • And finally, how to manage setbacks or pain flares

You have the power to make positive changes in your life. Thank you for taking this course! As always, we’re happy to hear your feedback or suggestions for this course.