Recovery Expectations

  • What are your chances of getting better? Looking into a crystal ball to foresee the future would be nice. But let’s face it; fortune telling is not that easy. The chances of getting better do improve when certain risk and health factors are modified. For example, quitting smoking greatly improves the chances that chronic pain will subside. Other modifiable factors that influence disease outcomes include diet, weight, exercise and overall health. Some believe that expectations also influence recovery.


    “How likely do you think it is that you will recover fully in 3 months?” One a scale of zero to 10; 10 meaning “very likely” and 0 meaning “not likely at all”. Where do you rate your expectations after an injury or illness? Expectations for recovery depend on the condition, your previous experience with a condition, the pain intensity, any depressive symptoms, and your overall health.

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    In a study that evaluated recovery expectation in those with low back pain, experience with previous episodes of low back pain had the greatest influence on what a person thought about his likelihood of fully recovering. That’s to be expected though. People with back pain learn what to expect when the pain flares up.(1)


    But what if you expect the worst? A catastrophic thinker in sky-is-falling fashion might expect the worst possible outcome each time an event happens. Does that influence the actual outcome? Possibly. Many researchers have explored the power of positive thinking as it pertains to disease prognosis. In general, those with a more positive outlook have less pain, less suffering and more chances of success. (2) (3)


    Books like “Learned Optimism” and “Awakening Joy: 10 Steps To Happiness” are full of how-to advice about changing your attitude. People know that pessimism is a dismal way to see the world. The colors are dim when looking through that half-empty glass. People want a better outlook. However, it is not so easy to change the tune in your head, even though changing that tune might improve your chances of recovering.


    Beyond the tunes of realism, optimism and pessimism is a different tune altogether called hope. Hope is the ultimate pathway to healing. The difference between optimism and hope is the following. Optimistic people expect things to turn out the way they want them to turn out. Hopeful people know that all things work for good no matter what the outcome is. Having hope during a recovery process is a matter of faith. Faith and hope bring healing to the mind, body and spirit no matter what happens.



     1. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2014 Jan 1;39(1):81-90

     2. J Pain. 2013 May;14(5):502-15

     3. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2013 May;17(5):329

Published On: February 21, 2014