Spoon Theory: A useful metaphor for conceptualising the reality of chronic pain

Spoon Theory: A useful metaphor for conceptualising the reality of chronic pain

Spoon Theory was coined in 2010 by a college student living with lupus. Since then it has gained much attention from chronic pain sufferers and others living with illnesses or pain that is not immediately visible to others. On Facebook and Instagram, tags such as #Spoonie and #SpoonieLife are commonly used in relation to chronic pain experiences. So what is Spoon Theory? What is a Spoonie? And why are we talking about it?

Spoon Theory speaks directly to the amount of energy someone with an ‘invisible’ illness has and what the consequences are when energy is depleted. It allows those who do not experience chronic pain and empathetic insight into the realities of pain management and energy conservation. Spoon Theory draws on the metaphor that we all have a certain number of energy spoons to use each day. Perhaps you start with ten spoons and each activity costs a certain amount of spoons. For example, getting out of bed may cost one spoon, getting dressed another one, eating breakfast another one etc. Once the last spoon has been reached you can either rest or overdraw spoons of energy to allow you to meet plans or obligations made prior. When spoons have been overdrawn this can lead to side effects such as increased pain, exhaustion, mood swings, appetite/weight changes and sleep disturbance. The term Spoonie, then, is often used as a self-adopted descriptor that identifies a person who has to spend energy wisely in order to meet their obligations and achieve desired tasks and goals.

Living well with chronic pain requires a process of making sense of the pain and flexibly persisting in spite of the pain. Flexibly persisting means actively pursuing the things we value in life, whist understanding the necessity of managing energy levels (not using all your spoons at once), so as to avoid burnout and the Boom-Bust cycle. This may mean not pushing too hard on good days and on bad days being as active as reasonable without significantly increasing the pain. Without appropriate pacing people can fall into the Boom-Bust cycle, where the energy spent on the good days eat into the spoon bank and leaves them even worse off on the bad ones.

At Metro Pain Group, we work hard to help increase your ‘spoons’ and improve consistency of your energy levels so that you can pursue the things you love and “live better”. We do this through research, evidence-based interventions and personalised pain management plans from multidisciplinary perspectives.

How do you increase your “spoons”?  Metro Pain Group would like your help in compiling tips and advice to be shared within the chronic pain community. In 25 words or less, how do you manage your pain and live better? Send your tips to: livebetter@metropain.com.au