Fibromyalgia: What Is Paintracking?

Deborah A. Barrett, Ph.D.
February 13, 2000

Paintracking is not about dwelling on your pain — to the contrary! It is an approach to help provide individualized information that increases your control over your condition and your life. “Paintracking,” or studying your body’s responses, helps increase the number and duration of pain-free times.

The idea for paintracking grew out of my own struggles with fibromyalgia. At first I had no idea what hit me! Most days I hurt so badly I could barely take care of myself, let alone accomplish any work. Meanwhile I bounced among treatment programs, doctors, medicines, exercise and bed rest. It was extremely frustrating to try so hard, and yet be so confused about what helped, if anything. To top it off, every so often I experienced a day where my pain was manageable. I was plagued with questions! Why would I occasionally have a good day? What made me feel better? What determined the length of my bad periods? I eventually realized the only way I would improve was if I donned the investigator’s hat and tracked my own experience.

As a sociologist, I knew to understand the effects of the various strategies I would have to collect daily evidence on my experience. Yet as a person who felt exhausted with my entire situation, I was not eager to devote time or energy to examine my pain. I disliked the daily worksheets I had been given by a pain clinic. They looked so dreadfully boring and time consuming. I wanted to think less about my pain, not more! So instead I sat down and devised a simple form for myself that addressed my immediate concerns. Thus I began the data collection that turned around the way I live my life. Based on overtime trends, I adjusted the way I exercise, made informed decisions about medications and doses, and found a daily rhythm that works best for me.

I am now writing the book that I wish someone had handed me when I first encountered mysterious, overwhelming pain. The book is still in progress. In the meantime, I offer some articles on this Web site about living with fibromyalgia that all include the idea of paintracking, or devising a worksheet to figure out what works.

By continuing to learn from your body, you learn not only how to live better with your current body, but also how to improve through a regimen geared specifically to your needs and abilities. Information gained from this simple daily exercise provides answers to perplexing questions about the effects of various medicines, therapies, activities, and environmental conditions on our well-being. Paintracking helps you figure out how to improve the quality of your sleep, increase your stamina, and discover what works best for you. This understanding allows you to predict and prepare for bad periods when you cannot prevent them. At the least, it should eliminate the unnecessary and frightening experiences of “out of the blue” pain flare-ups. All the while you can focus on continuously increasing good periods through ongoing adaptation.

Paintracking also provides a panoply of information, tips, and advice about leading the most comfortable and productive life we can in a changed body. Paintracking focuses primarily on fibromyalgia, regarded as the most prevalent cause of persistent muscular-skeletal pain, and my personal demon. The strategy of tracking one’s symptoms however is not limited to fibromyalgia. Paintracking’s system of monitoring one’s symptoms and any potential explanatory factors allows people to adjust to changed circumstances, whether due to a stroke, the onset of diabetes, or a traumatic event. Paintracking is especially applicable for conditions that share particular characteristics with fibromyalgia, notably, its “invisibility,” chronicity, and uncertainty.

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This article was posted on February 13, 2000.