Pacing and Goal Setting

One of the most popular pain management strategies globally is the idea of pacing activity or activity management.

There are number of different ways to manage your activity. This information has been put together to help you to start thinking about this.

What is pacing and why should we manage activity?

Pacing your activity is about you being smart about your activity and your energy levels. It is worth making clear that there is physical, mental and emotional energy.

Often we tend to focus on physical energy expenditure as this can be quite easy to relate to and understand. However, emotional and mental exertion can have an equal influence on pain and fatigue.

For example, an intense conversation with friends, family or colleagues or reading a novel do not require physical energy but emotionally and mentally they can drain us. This can be enough to flare up pain.

People with persistent pain often find themselves having good and bad days. On good days when the pain may be slightly easier and energy higher there is a tendency to do that little bit more. Unfortunately as a result of this in the following days the pain can be much higher and energy levels much lower.

Patients then get caught up in this repeated vicious cycle.

If you recognise this cycle you may want to read on……


Making some small steps towards taking control of your activity…

  • may reduce the severity / duration and frequency of your flare up of pain
  • may reduce the risk of medication over use
  • may help maintain better energy levels throughout the day

Here are a couple of ways of achieving this:

Discover your tolerance to an activity

Understanding your body’s tolerance to certain activities is helpful to get you started in managing your activity. This can be done by selecting a task and determining how long you are able to do this task for without aggravating your pain. Understand to take a rest before your increase in pain is alerting you to take that break. This would be your baseline.

Sitting / standing / walking

Most tasks tend to be performed in one of these three positions so often we will ask people to discover what their tolerances are to these.

REMEMBER, pain is NOT your guide. STOP before an increase in your pain prompts you to stop.

Find ways to help you with this such as setting a timer or the alarm on your phone or oven.

Daily activity planning

When managing your daily activity each day of the week ought to have a similar level of activity. One day should not be significantly busier than the others.
Ensure through the day you are mindful of your tolerance to the activities you have set yourself. Set a timer to remind you to change your posture, stretch or to take a break.

You may find it takes longer to complete a task but when completed you are likely to have avoided a flare up of pain and still have some energy left over! Consistency is key; once you have this routine established you will discover that you are able to do more of things that matter most to you.

Weekly activity planning

This is a much more formal way of managing your activity, some people like this as they can see that they are going to achieve all the tasks they feel pressured to get done.

When planning your weekly tasks each day ought to look similar in the amount of tasks you set yourself. It is important you remember that energy can be used up by mental, physical and emotional tasks.

Review your priorities

  • Can you put the task off? Can someone else do it for you? Can it be dropped all together?
  • Don’t let the boring everyday tasks take all your energy and time. Get a balance.
  • There needs to be a balance in the type of activity you are doing whether this is physical or mental. Deliberately switch between the two so you do not over exert yourself.

Stumbling blocks

Trial and error – Working out your activity tolerances can be a little tricky at first

Taking on too much – Try to control the drive to do more on days when you are feeling brighter

The unexpected – Sometimes life throws things at us that are not expected. Allow margins to compensate or absorb. Don’t panic; let it go

Family and friends – Explain to those closest to you what you are working towards

Set backs – Accept this may happen; when you are ready get back on with it

Pacing is about…

  • achieving
  • putting you in control of your body and mind, NOT your pain
  • respecting your body as it is NOW
  • being kind to yourself
  • keeping the pain “under the radar”