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Pain After Spinal Cord Injury: What to Expect and How to Treat It

treatment for pain after spinal cord injury

Pain after spinal cord injury is completely normal. It can even be caused by factors unrelated to spinal cord 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?

why youre experiencing 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 Injuryget rid of semicolons

You can feel various types of pain after spinal cord injury for many different reasons.

Here are 3 of the most commonly reported types of pain in spinal cord injury patients:

1. Musculoskeletal Pain

Musculoskeletal pain after spinal cord injury is very common and can occur due to muscle spasms or overuse of bones, joints, or muscles.

Musculoskeletal pain can be caused by muscle spasms or from overuse of bones, muscles, or joints.

It’s common in spinal cord injury patients because they must rely on unaffected parts of their bodies to compensate for paralyzed areas.

For example, one can develop musculoskeletal pain by overusing their arm muscles when operating 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 simply take a break from straining those muscles. If you can’t stop using those muscles, at least make an effort to limit their use as much as possible.

Another solution 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 side effects.

2. Visceral Pain

Visceral pain following spinal cord injury is located at the abdomen and can be very painful.

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 medical attention and 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 can be relieved with over-the-counter NSAIDs and acetaminophen.

Opioid use is also pretty common for reducing pain but does come with unpleasant side effects like drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and addiction.

3. Neuropathic Pain

Pain after spinal cord injury can be debilitating.

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 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 site 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 reduces neuropathic pain by stimulating pathways in the central nervous system.

Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opiates are also often used to treat neuropathic pain. However, these kinds of medications 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.

Preventating Pain After Spinal Cord Injury

Discomfort and irritation are common effects of 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.

Spatial summation is when presynaptic neurons gather to create a reaction. Dividing your attention allows for a smaller accumulation of presynaptic neurons, which 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 help keep your body in tip-top shape and reduce your risk of experiencing pain.

Hopefully, this article helped you better understand why you’re experiencing pain after spinal cord injury and what ou can do to better manage it.

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