10 Ways to Attend College in Chronic Pain

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. | Sep 22nd 2017 Sep 22nd 2017

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College is designed for adventure. However, if you live with chronic pain, there may be adaptations you need to make to enjoy the experience.

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Explore on-line options

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Sitting alone in front of a computer may not be your idea of the perfect college experience. However, an on-line class or two mixed into a busy course load may provide you with flexibility and the physical breaks you need to feel your best.

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Talk to your professors

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The time to talk to your professors is before the semester begins. Be honest with them about your situation. If your condition is unpredictable, explain this. Remain open to their hesitations and do not take them personally. For example, they may discourage you from taking a class if they know a certain course will not lend itself to excessive absenteeism. Their hesitations may save you frustration later.

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Utilize accommodations

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While chronic pain and disabilities can be different, the office of disabilities at colleges may be a great resource. Tom Webb, director of the Office of Disability Services at Wright State University, put it this way: “Many students with chronic pain can benefit from an accommodation plan developed by the knowledgeable staff of a disability services office. The key is to start the process as early as possible and not wait until you are in over your head with a flare-up during midterm exams.”

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Consider your best time of day

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Some wake up in the morning already in pain, while others experience pain that builds throughout the day. Knowing your typical pain pattern can help you to schedule your classes and the long walks between classrooms when you feel your best.

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Schedule rest

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Time management is extremely important in college. Being specific each day about when you will take breaks can help you to stay ahead of the pain.

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Focus on success stories

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When you are in pain, it is easy to focus on the negative. This includes focusing on people with your condition who were unable to attend college. Instead, actively search out others who have accomplished what you are setting out to do.

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Manage stress

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College can be stressful. Chronic stress is known to worsen pain. Therefore, it is extremely important that you find ways to avoid stressful situations, such as procrastinating assignments, whenever possible.

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Eat nutrient-dense food

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College life is often associated with pizza and soda. Food that is high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients can worsen chronic pain. When you need late night food, reach for a fruit smoothie, chopped veggies and hummus dip, or homemade nachos loaded with tomatoes, peppers, and avocados.

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Have plans in place for a bad day

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Most likely there will be days when, as result of over-doing it, you cannot get out of bed. Have a plan for these days. Know who you can count on to take notes for you in each of your classes. Talk to your doctor about having extra medication available if you need it on these days.

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Pay attention to your patterns

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College helps you prepare for your future. Knowing your pain patterns and how you react to certain situations is part of the knowledge that you can gain from the college experience.