We use cookies on this website.

Back to the overview

Two patterns of behavior that make pain worse

There are two types of behaviour that increase pain.

1. Doing too much. It can be very attractive to be quite active when you have a better day. Or maybe you think you should just keep going, not complain but wear it. 

Finally a big clean-up, or go on that one cycling trip with the family. It doesn't matter if that happens once in a while, but by regularly overloading our pain system gets upset. The result is high peaks and deep valleys. In which the valleys seem to get deeper and deeper, and you experience more pain. 

2. Doing too little. Our body naturally tells us to take it easy when we are in pain. In case of acute and short pain this is justified, the signals that cause pain then rightly warn us of danger. In case of chronic pain, the pain is often no longer a good representation of damage in your body. 

It is therefore counterproductive to try to avoid the pain as much as possible. In fact, your brain thinks that it is right to create pain. The result: even more pain! And in the meantime your condition is deteriorating...

What is also common is a change of both patterns. Sometimes there is too much effort, at other times not enough. In all cases you will learn your pain system to cause more and more pain!

Two patterns

The mountain

Then what can you do? A nice comparison is that of climbing a mountain. If you have chronic pain, you are at the very bottom of the mountain. You've learned that there's no point in climbing the steepest slope (too much effort). You also know that you don't reach the top if you stay at the bottom of the mountain (too little effort).

The solution that is also scientifically proven to be effective in case of pain is called 'gradual exposure'. You slowly go up the mountain, follow the paths and make slow progress until you reach the top.

The principle is simple. Find out which activities you can do now and how long you can easily continue. Then slowly expand this activity. Suppose we take hiking as an example, while we are talking about mountains. 

Harry always loved walking, but since his pain he hardly walks. He investigates what he can easily handle. He walks every day for four days until it doesn't feel good anymore. This varies a bit per day, but on average he can walk 400 meters. Every day he wants to see if he can expand 25 metres. In this way, Harry has managed to walk another three kilometres after three months of work! 

See if you can find yourself an activity that you can slowly expand. Make sure you don't do too much, but also not too little! 


1. There is almost always a relapse of pain. Be prepared for the fact that sometimes, even if you do everything right, you can still have more pain. 

2. Go out, even if you are in a lot of pain. If necessary, adjust your schedule a little, or take it a little easier - but stay active! 

3. Do your activity together with someone else. Tell the other person about your goals and also explain how pain works, so that the other person understands the effort that is healthy for you. Everything is easier with the support of someone else. 

4. Keep going! Chronic pain does not just disappear. Don't focus on the pain you feel, but focus your attention on how well you are doing and the progress you are making. The less you think about your pain, the more your brain unlearns to make pain.