6 answers to 'but you don't look sick' for chronic pain patients

6 answers to 'but you don't look sick' for chronic pain patients

Sarah Dillingham - CEO & Founder
2 minute read

‘But You don’t look sick’. 

Five words that most chronic pain patients have heard at some time or another. 

But what's the big deal? Surely it's a compliment?


Why it hurts to hear 'But you don't look sick'

Many people with chronic pain conditions are dealing with invisible illnesses and / or disabilities.

These include conditions like lupus, rheumatoid disease and osteoarthritis.

We all know to say 'get well soon' when someone has the flu or a broken leg.

But what happens when the illness is not going to get better?

When there is no cure?

When it's not immediately obvious that something is wrong? 

Invisible conditions are as real, challenging and complex as visible ones. 

So hearing ‘but you don’t look sick’ can be frustrating. 

Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, said in a clumsy way.

The problem arises when it is delivered in a tone that implies that you might not be sick at all.


6 responses to 'But you don't look sick'

We asked the Women with Rheumatoid Disease community what they say when people tell them: "But you don't look sick"

Here are some of their answers:

  • “I don't look sick? You don't look stupid!” - Issa
  • “I'm glad that I don't always look the way I feel because it would scare people off” - Alex
  • “Just because I don't look sick, it doesn't mean I'm not. I struggle on a day to day basis with it. You don't know how I feel. I might be smiling on the outside but you don't know what is going on within me.” -  Carol
  • “You don't have to look sick to be sick” -  Marie
  • “It only took two layers of makeup and strong pain killers to look like this” - Lisa
  • “I am not explaining again...Google it!” - Nickie


woman in blue shirt saying ' you don't look sick' 'no darling I look fabulous'


You are not alone

Fed up with people telling you 'but you don't look sick?'. Join online chronic pain communities like our Hand Pain community and Women with Rheumatoid Disease and find other people who understand.


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