Being Paralyzed Doesn’t Mean Pain Free
My client suffered a C5-6 cord injury. He is a quadriplegic. He has some ability to use his hands and can write slowly with the use of braces. He can use a computer too. But to give you an idea of what this means, he can type one key at time, reposition his hand, type the next key. He is in his early 40s and was injured two years ago. He was given an electric wheel chair but gave it back. He wants to do his best to stay as strong as he can. Even though it is difficult, he wants uses a manual wheelchair.
As I sit talking to him, I see him put his hands on the wheel chair arms. He lifts his body upwards. He holds his body up – a little off the seat of the chair. After a short time his arms begin to shake and then he lowers himself. At first I think he is doing exercises. But he is trying to relieve pain. Though he has been injured from the neck down, he can feel the constant burning, stabbing pain in his low back. It is unrelenting. His only relief is to try to move position. And to take pain pills which he does not want to do as he is a single father. He needs to keep his wits about him.
Unless you have an SCI or personally know someone who does, you probably had no idea that a person could be paralyzed yet be in terrible pain. Harborview through the University of Washington medical school, is one of only fourteen model spinal cord injury centers in the United States. Their website is an essential resource for those with SCI. Their fall newsletter features the following abstract of a pain study.
Chronic spinal cord injury pain: pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments and treatment effectiveness.
Of 279 persons with SCI who responded to a survey about pain, 215 (77.1%) reported having chronic SCI pain. Of these, 62.8% reported more than one pain type, of which neuropathic pain was most common (69.3%). Many of those with pain (63.8%) were receiving treatment but still had high levels of pain. The most common treatments were massage therapy/relaxation, anticonvulsants, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The treatments most often thought to be effective were acupuncture/magnetising, cannabis/alcohol, physiotherapy and exercise, and massage therapy/relaxation. TENS/ultrasound and antidepressants were least often perceived as effective. Heutink M, Post MW, Wollaars MM, van Asbeck FW. Disabil Rehabil. 2010 Aug 9.
There are less common treatments. Doctors can perform a neurotomy. This means that they deaden the nerve causing the problem. However, that nerve can and will often regenerate. The most drastic treatment is to completely sever the damaged cord. However, that would destroy the hope that one day there will be a cure.