Chronic Pain After a Spinal Cord Injury

Chronic Pain After a Spinal Cord Injury

Pain! Most people who suffer from a spinal cord injury or various diseases suffer from chronic pain on some level. There are ways of improving and preventing pain but what do you do? Well it depends on the type of pain you’re experiencing.

Musculoskeletal Pain

This type of pain comes from the joints, bones, and muscles. It is caused by overuse of the affected areas and general wear and tear on our already injured bodies. The easiest way to identify this type of pain is it goes away with rest.

Make sure your wheelchair is offering your proper positioning support to minimize the strain on your muscles in your back and neck. Have adjustments made as needed to correct the problem.

Treating this type of pain is fairly easy. Finding ways to not overuse the only muscles you have available is not. What can we do about it?

  1. Rest! Make sure you are getting adequate rest so your body can recover from all of the extra work you’re putting in day to day.
  2. When rest is no longer cutting it try a massage. A massage can help loosen those muscles and the difference is amazing.
  3. Acupuncture can be used to block the nerve signals of pain to certain areas of the body.
  4. Using a TENS unit can be very helpful over time for chronic pain in a specific area of the back. I use mine all of the time!
  5. Physical therapy! You have to practice those range of motion exercises to keep the muscle spasticity from building up.
  6. Over the counter pain relievers such as advil and naproxen help with the pain and inflammation. The doctor can prescribe stronger Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) as well like Celebrex.
  7. Narcotics can be used to treat severe muscle and joint pain when approved by a doctor. Medications like Baclofen are preferred to prevent spasms before needing more medications to fix the problem afterwards.
Neuropathic Pain

Nerve pain. Enough said!

It feels like a burning sensation or that you’re being stuck with 10,000 needles. At least for me it feels that way, and it is not pleasant. It is caused by a miscommunication between the nerves and the brain. Phantom pain can be experienced when your brain thinks you’re feeling pain in an area where you have no function. Isn’t that fun? I thought I was crazy the first few times I had experienced this sensation. This type of pain is harder to treat but there is hope.

  1. Therapy is effective in preventing pain. That’s weird right? Not exactly. It turns out patients who suffer from untreated depression have much higher levels of pain even when treated with medications.
  2. Relaxation and meditation does work for some people. They have the ability to focus their minds elsewhere until the sensation passes. Good for them!
  3. Specific antidepressants have been found to be effective against certain types of nerve pain. My wife takes Elavil for her trigeminal neuralgia and it keeps it in check.

Drugs! I won’t lie to you people… The drugs saved me. I tried all of the other options but I can not be distracted or ignore the level of pain I feel on some days. No amount of deep breathing and concentration is going to cut it in those moments where you feel like you’re being snapped in half. There are different types of daily medications that can be taken for pain. Obviously this should be your last resort but sometimes it’s needed. There is no shame in saying OMG make it freakin stop before I die!

Medications like Lyrica and Neurontin were designed to treat seizures, but they are very effective in the fight against neuropathic pain. Lyrica is a controlled substance while Neurontin is not.

Opiates can be used to treat pain but are found to be generally ineffective against nerve pain and are only prescribed as a last ditch effort to control chronic pain. Opiates also have a tendency to cause motility issues in the bowel over an extended period of time and who needs that extra mess?

The best way to prevent chronic pain is to keep your body as healthy as possible. Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated. Stay active and engaged socially. Exercise your muscles to maintain your range of motion and prevent spasticity. Get plenty of rest at night in bed. Always use proper support with positioning and when doing transfers. Small changes to your routine can add up to a big change in your level of pain.

2 replies
  1. Shawn Minor
    Shawn Minor says:

    C7 incomplete – For a year or longer I went without getting any massage or therapy after getting discharged from my initial rehabilitation, and it really wore me down. My neck and shoulders would be so sore by the end of every day, finally I knew I had to start getting regular massages. I’ve been going every two weeks for a 30 minute session ever since. That was probably five years ago. I still get sore, but it doesn’t bother me on a day to day basis. The best thing I’ve learned is to stretch out my neck muscles and arms while sitting at my computer or watching TV. I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just routine.

  2. danielle
    danielle says:

    I had a tear in my spine which swelled and made my legs paralyzed its so frustrating sometimes cause i wanna walk i feel burning and aching in my legs it hurt so bad my foot and ankle hurt sometimes i cant move my legs or feet i just want it to b over

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