Individuals with spinal cord injuries often experience excruciating and unrelenting chronic pain. The pain often has a significant impact upon the physical and mental well-being of the individual and has consequences on their lifestyle, home life, relationships and employment position. Our blog post today looks into this type of pain, which is often misunderstood.
Chronic pain can occur at any level of the spinal cord. It can take the form of musculoskeletal pain, occurring due to muscle spasm or over use, or even abnormal use, of the arms or shoulders. Another type of pain can be in the abdomen and may be delayed, often occurring after the injury itself.
A common type of pain caused by spinal cord injury which is often misunderstood, is the development of neuropathic pain. This can be described as a sharp, shooting and burning pain. This pain is quite complex. It can be hyperalgesia, which is pain that is more painful than it should be, or alternatively, allodynia, which is a pain response to something that is not normally painful.
There has been much research into chronic pain experienced by patients with spinal cord injuries. Those who reported pain at high levels, were often those patients who accepted their disabilities but who experienced emotional distress (over and above that linked directly with the spinal cord injury itself). For example, if it had been caused by the fault of another party or resulted in financial or personal issues arising out of the injury. An individual’s experience of chronic pain does rely heavily on psycho-social factors. This does not suggest that it is not genuine, nor that it isn’t a significant part of an individual’s injuries.
An ongoing challenge to the healthcare community is how to develop treatment strategies for patients in these situations, when the physiological and psychological mechanisms of such pain are unclear.
If an individual starts to experience prolonged periods of pain, then going to the GP for an early referral onto a pain management consultant, is crucial, so that the correctly trained healthcare professionals can commence an appropriate treatment programme.
We still need to go a long way to understand why some individuals experience chronic pain and others don’t. However, a better understanding of the interaction of pain with cognitive, emotional and social factors, as well as early detection and treatment is key. Early participation in pain management programmes, which recognise chronic pain, can help an individual manage the pain and improve their quality of life.
This article forms part of a series written for the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) ‘Ask the experts’ blog. As a Gold Corporate Partner of the SIA you can rest assured that we are legal experts in spinal cord injuries. We have many connections in the Spinal Injury world and have a great deal of experience and success in gaining appropriate compensation for our clients who have sustained a spinal cord injury. Follow our #spinalinjuryjourney on Twitter.