The key to managing chronic pain after spinal cord or brain injury, experts agree, is to use a multi-modal approach — a combination of therapies that involve both mind and body. These can include medication, physical therapy and exercise, biofeedback, relaxation, and counseling and support groups, based on your individual needs. To make the most of all your options, you will need to get involved in your recovery to actively explore the combination of treatments that work best for you.

Mental strength

After any injury, it is important to give your body time to heal. It can be difficult to give yourself the time needed to recover, especially as you begin to feel less discomfort. Think of the recovery period as preparation. You can use this time to build your relationships with your health care providers, learn to listen to your body's cues and research the complementary approaches you can apply in your longer-term strategy.

Your relationship with your providers is important. They can help you get access to physical therapy, recommend the type of home exercise you should do, and let you know when you are cleared to begin. Ask them about other self-management skills you can apply during your recovery, such as relaxation techniques that can reduce the tension that increases pain. Don't be a passive patient. Get involved in the process of finding ways to reduce your suffering and restore function.

“To make the most of all your options, you will need to get involved in your recovery, to actively explore the combination of treatments that work best for you.”

Take small steps

As you begin to become more active, you need to pace yourself based on your ability each day, and sometimes each hour. That can be difficult, especially when you begin to feel better. The key is to listen to your body. Take note of the first sign of pain and rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Then you can begin again. Make sure you are setting realistic goals for yourself and build on each small success.

The goal of pain management is to reduce suffering, increase function and improve quality of life. It may not be possible to eliminate your pain altogether. Pain management is an ongoing process. That's why keeping communication open with your health care provider is so critical.

Be attuned

However, that may not be easy because it is difficult to remember what you felt like from day to day. While focusing on the pain, you do not always pay attention to such things as how well you sleep, your mood, your social isolation and even medication side effects. These factors can contribute to your increased discomfort.

There are a number of tools available online for you to consider, allowing you to make communication with your providers more efficient and effective. For example, there is a pain log which helps users track all the factors that contribute to their pain score and may interfere with your healing. It can help both you and your health care provider know where your needs are — during and after your recovery.   

Being an active part of the recovery process by knowing your limits, listening to your body, pacing your activities, tracking your progress and following medical advice can provide a more positive outcome and a better future. It is possible to suffer less, function more fully and have a higher quality of life.