Pain associated with Spinal Injuries
Many of our clients who are military personnel and veterans who have suffered with spinal injuries or spinal cord injuries (‘SI’ or ‘SCI’) also suffer from pain conditions. These are most often related to nerve damage from the SCI or musculoskeletal problems associated with the SCI.
Pain is a serious problem for many of our spinally injured clients. It can affect parts of the body where sensation is intact as well as parts of the body where there is no feeling at all. The majority of people with spinal injury report that they suffer from chronic pain, which means it does not go away and it can last several months to years. As it is something that cannot easily be seen, and there is often a delay in obtaining treatment, it is easy to underestimate how much of a negative impact pain can have on the quality of someone’s life.
Difference between neuropathic pain and musculoskeletal pain
The correct diagnosis of a spinal injury is often key to establishing the source of pain at an early stage. It can make a difference to the treatment offered, and the effectiveness of any treatment in managing and reducing pain. Where the source of pain is wrongly identified, it can lead to treatment being recommended which can exacerbate rather than alleviate an individual’s condition.
This pain is described as being between the nerves which have been damaged by a SCI. It connects the nerves to the brain. It essentially sends signals from the associated area in the body to the brain.
Unfortunately, neuropathic pain varies depending on the individual and so it is often difficult to diagnose, and therefore there can often be a delay in treatment causing the SCI to worsen and leading to chronic pain.
Musculoskeletal pain is caused by problems in the muscles, joints or bones.
It is particularly common in military personnel and veterans as they are required to carry out highly physical activities on the body, such as, overexertion on the joints through physical training exercises.
It may also be caused by an injury, strain, or overuse of a particular muscle. These types of injuries usually get worse with movement and better with rest. In many cases, physical therapy is not always the correct method of treatment for these types of pain conditions.
It is very important to contact your medical officer or general practitioner (‘GP’) if you notice new pain or pain that is increasing, especially in areas around the level of injury, and any new loss of sensation or muscle weakness.
We also often see cases where neurological pain caused by a spinal injury has been mistaken for musculoskeletal pain. Severe pain, increasing pain, and pain that spreads can often be signs of a medical emergency, requiring urgent attention. Many of our clients are reluctant to express how much the pain they suffer from limits them, having been used to the expectation that they should push through pain during the course of their military service. Often, when they do complain it is because the pain they are suffering has become unmanageable, only to be ignored or told to “crack on.” Such situations can lead to serious injury which could otherwise be avoided.
Managing pain after Spinal Injury
Unfortunately, there is no single way to treat pain. It may require a combination of treatments, such as, medication, therapy, psychological treatments and surgery options, which should be decided with your doctor or health care professional.
Overall health can have a big impact on pain. Keeping yourself as healthy as possible can help reduce pain. Here are some tips!
- Keep a record – Everyone’s pain can be slightly different so keep a record of what makes your symptoms feel better and what makes the pain worse. Understanding things that affect your pain will help you and your doctor find effective ways to reduce it.
- Mental Health Treatment – If you suffer with mental health issues it is important to consult your medical officer/ GP as mental health disorders can worsen pain conditions.
- Reduce stress – Stress can play a huge role on our lives and can make pain worse or make the pain harder to cope with. It is important to learn how to manage stress through counselling or specific techniques to help you reduce stress and tension, such as, exercise.
- Do not use alcohol to ease pain – Using alcohol as a pain medication can lead to alcohol abuse and other serious problems. In addition, some medications should not be mixed with alcohol. It is important to ask your doctor about drinking alcohol, and always read the labels of your prescriptions.
Managing pain is just one aspect of the effects of spinal injury that our clients say affects them the most. Finding the right combination of treatment/tools to help manage pain can make a big difference to the quality of life of an individual who has suffered a spinal injury.
The Military Claims team are experienced specialists in handling Spinal Injury claims and getting the best level of compensation for our clients who have suffered through negligence that could have been avoided. We understand the unique challenges faced by personnel and veterans who have suffered spinal injury, and are well equipped to help our clients find the right support to help maximise their recovery and independence.