The Spoon Theory: How to Explain What It Is Like to Live with Chronic Pain

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog

Diane Poladian PT DPT OCS
February 19, 2024 / 4 mins read

It is challenging for an individual with chronic pain to communicate with family members about their fatigue and limited energy levels. It is equally difficult as a parent or family member when dealing with a family member’s chronic pain issues that limit their ability to participate in normal family activities. One of the main challenges is dealing with the lack of energy to do the activities of daily living.

“The Spoon Theory,” written by Christine Miserandino, is a wonderfully written story about a young woman with lupus who is trying to communicate to her friend about how it feels to be ill. She utilizes spoons to describe a way to measure one’s energy to complete a task. Those of us who are healthy do not have to think about how much energy it will require to shower or dress in the morning. We do not need to be concerned about managing our energy so that we can get through our day. It is hard for those with chronic pain to communicate this to family members who have unlimited spoons.

In the story, Christine describes that her energy levels are limited to twelve spoons per day. You can borrow spoons from the next day, but then you will have less the following day.

The story can be used to open communication with your child about what it is like to have pain and to be able to discuss energy levels. For example, when planning weekend activities, you may ask your child if they would like to go for a walk after lunch. If they reply, “No, because it will cost me five spoons, and I only have four remaining,” everyone has a quick and nonjudgmental way to understand your child’s current energy levels.

“The Spoon Theory” can also help your child explain to friends about their limitations. One of the issues that kids with chronic pain sometimes deal with is that they don’t look sick, making it difficult for their friends to understand why they don’t participate in activities anymore.

Read “The Spoon Theory” article by Christine Miserandino here.

Christine Miserandino is the founder of She has won numerous awards for her writing and has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and television. She was a guest expert for Alliance Health, and a community TV host for She prides herself on being a patient advocate, online influencer, and health brand ambassador. But her favorite role is that of a Mommy.

You can find her at @bydls on Facebook.