Pain after spinal cord injury is completely normal. You can even feel it in areas that have nothing to do with the injury.
Most people experience chronic pain after spinal cord injury. Chronic pain can linger for months or years. It can make you feel all sorts of negative emotions because it makes everything so much harder than it needs to be.
It won’t be easy, but you have to be optimistic. The absolute worst thing you can do for yourself is to dig yourself deep into a pit of negativity.
All pain is temporary and the only way to fuel your recovery and stay motivated is through a positive mindset.
What Causes Pain After Spinal Cord Injury?
The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain responsible for perceiving pain. Receptors will carry stimuli up the spinal cord to the brain where it reacts.
Every spinal cord injury is unique to the individual so everyone will experience pain differently. Some may constantly feel it, while others might only notice it from time to time.
Studies show that you can even feel pain without any stimulus in cases of severe trauma.
Pain caused by spinal cord injury pain is called central pain because it involves an imbalance in the central nervous system.
3 Types of Pain after Spinal Cord Injury:
You can feel various types of pain after spinal cord injury for many different reasons.
1. Musculoskeletal Pain
Musculoskeletal pain can occur because of muscle spasms or from overuse of bones, muscles, or joints.
It’s common for spinal cord injury patients because as they learn to adjust to paralysis, they rely more on other parts of their body.
For example, one can develop musculoskeletal pain by overusing arm muscles when maneuvering a wheelchair.
This type of pain is typically dull and consistent but bearable. You feel musculoskeletal pain at or above the injury site.
Treatment for Musculoskeletal Pain:
One of the easiest remedies for musculoskeletal pain is to take a break from straining those muscles. If you can’t stop using those muscles, at least make an effort to limit its use as much as possible.
An effortless way to reduce overexerting your arm muscles is to use a power wheelchair instead.
It might seem challenging to find a balance between maintaining your physical activity levels and letting your body rest, but not all exercise has to be strenuous. Check out our article on core exercises for spinal cord injury to discover some simple exercises you can practice from the comfort of your wheelchair!
Practicing range of motion exercises or stretching will help relieve pain caused by tight muscles.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve) are commonly recommended for musculoskeletal pain relief.
For more severe cases, professional will prescribe opiates or muscle relaxants. As with any medication, be wary of potential side effects.
2. Visceral Pain
Visceral pain originates from your internal organs and although it’s the least common type of pain for spinal cord injuries, it can be the most agonizing and long-lasting.
This type of pain is in the abdomen area and generally feels like aching or cramping.
Visceral pain can be a precursor for secondary problems with your urinary tract or bowel, so it’s crucial to seek special attention to address the source of pain.
Visceral and musculoskeletal pain are both types of nociceptive pain. Nociceptive pain comes from physical damage to the body from the outside.
Treatment for Visceral Pain:
Like musculoskeletal pain, visceral pain relies on over-the-counter NSAIDs and acetaminophen for relief.
Opioid use is also pretty common for reducing pain but does come with unpleasant side effects like drowsiness, constipation, and nausea. Be aware that one can quickly become addicted to the drug, leading to dependence.
3. Neuropathic Pain
The counterpart to nociceptive pain is neuropathic pain. It’s different because it does not result in response to outside stimuli. Instead, it develops from nerve damage.
You can feel neuropathic pain at, above, or below the site of injury.
Even in areas with little or no feeling, you can feel this kind of pain. This is because your brain misinterprets the signals sent from below the injury and perceives it as pain.
Neuropathic pain is sharp, stabbing, or even burning pain. It’s typically spontaneous but can develop in response to certain stimuli.
Treatment for Neuropathic Pain:
Electrical stimulation of the motor cortex is a popular treatment for neuropathic pain. It proves to reduce neuropathic pain by stimulating pathways in the central nervous system.
Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opiates are often used to treat neuropathic pain. Just keep in mind that these kinds of medication only temporarily relieve pain and will not address the underlying cause.
Antidepressants increase the number of neurotransmitters in the spinal cord to reduce the feeling of pain. Unfortunately, experts still don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind why anticonvulsants can relieve neuropathic pain.
Preventative Measures for Pain After Spinal Cord Injury:
Did you know that when you pay more attention to your pain, it feels more intense than if you were to distract yourself? Keeping yourself busy will actually help you deal with pain.
Long story short, spatial summation is when presynaptic neurons add up to create a reaction. Dividing your attention allows for a smaller cumulation of presynaptic neurons and lowers the amount of pain you perceive.
Your overall health also plays a huge role in how much pain you feel. Maintaining your health through regular diet and exercise will keep you from experiencing any unnecessary pain.