After your specific spinal injury is initially diagnosed and treated, you may still experience some degree of discomfort. If there is no pressing medical need for surgery, or even after you’ve had surgery, you may be referred to a pain management specialist for further assessment that includes a personalized treatment plan and a combination of remedies meant to ease your pain and improve your quality of life.
The first step in managing pain from a spinal injury is to reduce swelling around the vertebrae and supporting joints. This is often accomplished with corticosteroid medication, anti-inflammatory medication, or epidural steroid injections directly into the affected area of the spine. Swelling may also be caused by injuries that have altered the curvature of the spine or damaged the spongy discs that cushion the backbone.
Treating Musculoskeletal Pain
Musculoskeletal pain associated with a spinal injury is usually dull or “achy” in nature and persistent enough to be a distraction. Often triggered or worsened by movement, musculoskeletal pain can be treated with some type of physical therapy to strengthen muscles supporting the spine and by identifying pain triggers. Once the movements likely to trigger pain are determined, you can modify your movements accordingly.
Treating Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain from a spinal injury is caused by some type of damage to nerves in your spinal cord that transfer pain signals to the part of your brain that interprets pain. Demanding instant attention, this type of discomfort is often experienced as sharp, stabbing pain that’s sometimes accompanied by “pins and needles” or burning sensations. Fairly complex in nature, neuropathic pain isn’t usually triggered by any specific action.
Personalizing Pain Management
Since spinal injuries often involve both musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain, treatment is usually a combination of medications, physical therapy, preventative measures, and lifestyle adjustments, such as adopting a healthy diet and getting appropriate regular exercise. Some patients also benefit from pain management efforts that include:
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) units
- Massage therapy
- Application of heat or ice
- Temporary bracing to improve stability
- Core muscle strengthening
- Self-management skills
Further improve your experience with pain management efforts by having realistic expectations. While some patients do enjoy complete relief, the goal of pain management is just that, to reach a point where discomfort is manageable. It’s a goal often achieved by improving muscle strength and learning ways to improve posture to maintain spinal alignment and avoid movements likely to trigger pain.