Living with Chronic Pain: How a Service Dog Can Lend a Paw

Finding ways to cope with chronic pain can be extremely frustrating and challenging. Chronic pain can persist for weeks, months, and even years. In many cases, such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), there is no cure. So what can people suffering from CRPS or other chronic pain do to help reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life? Bringing a dog into their lives may be the answer.

What is CRPS?

CRPS is a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm, leg, hand or foot. It typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack and is believed to be caused by damage to the peripheral and central nervous systems. CRPS symptoms may change over time and vary from person to person, but they usually include pain, swelling, redness, noticeable changes in temperature and hypersensitivity.

How can dogs help?

Since there currently is no cure for CRPS, people suffering from it must find different treatments and medicines to manage not only their physical pain but also their mental wellness. This is where dogs come in to help. They’re naturally driven to please people and offer unconditional love and loyalty. Dogs help treat chronic pain, with the ability to offer both emotional and physical assistance for people living with CRPS. 

Dealing with CRPS on a daily basis can greatly affect a person’s mental well being so finding ways to improve emotional health is key. Dogs, no matter if it’s a pet or a service animal, can provide incredible emotional and mental support. Having physical contact by simply petting or cuddling with a dog can improve emotional well being. In addition, having a dog can help distract you from your pain. Taking care of another living animal can give you something else to focus on besides your pain.

In addition to boosting mental well being, such as reducing stress, loneliness and anxiety, dogs can provide physical assistance to those with CRPS. Some of the physical benefits of pet therapy include decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure and increased endorphin production. Also, people with CRPS sometimes have limited mobility which can make everyday life challenging. A properly trained service dog can make life easier by providing balance and support, retrieving dropped objects, opening and closing doors and getting help when needed. 

Service dogs have proven to provide emotional and physical support for those with chronic pain. For Brittany Hawley, a CRPS sufferer in North Carolina, her service dog helped her finish school. She received her master’s degree while her dog, Griffin, was given an honorary degree for his role in her success.

Types of dogs that offer CRPS support

While a pet dog can definitely provide love and support, someone with CRPS may benefit even further from a specially trained dog such as an Emotional Support Dog (ESD), Therapy Dog or Service Dog. These dogs have various levels of abilities and are allowed in certain places based on their training and certifications.  

An Emotional Support Dog (ESD) provides comfort and support through affection and companionship to their owners. They do not require any specific training or certification because they aren’t being asked to perform certain tasks. However, a prescription from a mental health or other health care professional is required to classify your animal as an ESD. ESDs are not allowed in public facilities under the American Disabilities Act, but they are protected under federal laws and some states and local governments allow ESDs in public places. 

For those who don’t want the full-time responsibility of taking care of a dog, but could reap therapeutic benefits from spending time with one, a therapy dog would be a good option. A therapy dog works as a team with its owner to offer comfort to those in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Therapy dogs require certification and registration with a reputable organization before they are allowed to start visiting facilities.

If you are in need of both emotional and physical support, a service dog would be the best choice. A service dog is a full-time dog companion, and it must undergo extensive training because it is certified and taught to perform complex tasks and is protected by the American Disabilities Act. Service dogs are considered to be working animals, not pets, and they are allowed to be in public establishments, like restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels.

Since a service dog is learning such specific tasks and needs to learn how to live in a variety of situations, the training can be very expensive and may take up to two years to complete. There are many organizations that train and provide service dogs to those in need, and some will even cover the expenses that are associated with the care and education of the dogs. However, if you can’t find an organization to help you find a service dog, people with disabilities do have the right to personally train their own service dogs.

If CRPS or other chronic pain is affecting your happiness and ability to live a normal life, you may want to consider adding a furry friend into your treatment plan. Whether it’s a family dog, support, therapy or service dog, interacting with man’s best friend offers a natural pain reliever and can improve a person’s quality of life.


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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a serious medical condition that causes chronic, debilitating pain. For those who suffer from it more