Is Chronic Pain A Given For Someone With A Spinal Cord Injury?

July 11, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

No one likes being in pain, but it’s something that everyone has to deal with from time to time. Everyone has their preferred methods of dealing with the day to day aches and pains that plague many of us, as well as more acute pain that we’re sometimes faced with. However, chronic pain, which is defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as any “pain lasting more than 12 weeks” is another story entirely. A recent study by NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reveals that almost 50 million Americans are plagued with chronic pain or severe pain.

Most people who have sustained a spinal cord injury (SCI) are left dealing with pain on an ongoing basis. But, to respond to the question in the title above, it’s not accurate to say that it’s a “given.” In many cases, the pain is a direct result of the injury caused by the damage to nerve tissue. But in other cases, the injury itself may have had the effect of the loss of sensation in the area below the level of the injury, so certainly not everyone with SCI has chronic pain. Another factor to consider is that apart from the direct effects of the spinal cord injury, there may also be pain which results from the extended amounts of time spent in a wheelchair, which is also extremely common.

Chronic Pain vs. Acute Pain 

Most of us are familiar with what pain management professionals refer to as “acute” pain. If you step on something sharp, for example, or touch a hot pot, you’ll experience a sudden, severe pain. In these cases, the pain is a warning signal – something has triggered our nervous system to alert us that there may be some danger. Generally speaking, removing the danger also eliminates the pain, and this may even happen instinctively, like when your hand jerks back from that hot pot as soon as you make contact with it.

Chronic pain is another story entirely. Whether it’s caused by the trauma to your nervous system (neurogenic), or is a side effect of dealing with the effects of the spinal cord injury, there are few things that can throw one’s entire life out of equilibrium in the way that chronic pain does.

Dealing with Chronic Pain 

There’s another angle on the question above. While it’s true that many people who have had a spinal cord injury do indeed have chronic pain, that doesn’t mean that it’s something that you can’t treat. Therapies for chronic pain may include:

Exercise – Exercise can help dealing with main on more than one level. First, it helps improve one’s general health and state of mind. Additionally, there are exercises which directly counteract the musculoskeletal pain caused by extended periods of time in the wheelchair. 

Medication – In many cases, medications are used to effectively treat pain. This is not the most desirable therapy for chronic pain, however, due to the side effects and the addictive nature of painkillers.

Acupunture – This ancient Chinese method of applying needles to various points on the body has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of maladies. It’s become more prevalent in the west, and continues to gain acceptance in the medical community as a an effective method of dealing with chronic pain.

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