Chronic pain is pain that a person experiences for a long period of time (longer than 3 months) after an injury. Pain is a complex issue for people with brain injury, as not only is there bodily pain, but the way you perceive pain may have changed as well. Pain can also make symptoms of brain injury worse, especially if it impedes the person’s ability to perform rehabilitation exercises.
You can experience bodily pain which is common in the neck, shoulders, back, hips and knees and can be caused by comorbid conditions (conditions that happened/are happening at the same time). This is typically an aching pain or a sharp pain and gets worse with activity. Neuropathic pain is nerve-related and can be a burning, tingling, stabbing or shooting sensation . Headaches are common (particularly after concussions) and can be debilitating. Many individuals report chronic pain after their brain injury to varying degrees  and in different parts of the body .
Chronic pain can have side effects, it can impact mental health and emotions, your social life, your behaviours, and causes problems with thought processing. We have more information on coping with these kinds of effects on the following pages:
Managing chronic pain after brain injury
Without management, chronic pain can impact quality of life and rehabilitation. This is detrimental for both your physical and mental health. Chronic pain can keep you from engaging in activities you like and socializing with friends and family. It can also contribute to sleep problems and impact your emotions. When you’re tired, you may notice that your pain threshold is actually worse, which then again contributes to bad sleep. By learning to manage chronic pain, you can improve your quality of life, manage other symptoms and focus on your rehabilitation and activities of daily living (ADLs).
Chronic pain management and treatment may include physical therapy and medication. Physical therapy can help with improving mobility, identifying pain points, teaching proper stretching and exercise form and building your endurance for activities. Pacing strategies taught by your therapist are also very important for managing chronic pain. It’s a long process but can yield positive results with time and patience.
Doctors will provide prescriptions for medication if appropriate. The prescription could be as simple as an over-the-counter headache medication. However, in some cases they may prescribe medications targeted to the type of pain that you are experiencing. Some medications may contain opioids: used safely, they are an effective pain medication. But used incorrectly, they can be dangerous. Opioid overdoses can actually cause brain injury . It’s important for the patient to use prescribed medication correctly, and work with doctors continually for effective pain management. Some additional examples of pain management techniques include:
- Avoiding substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, etc.
- Commit to developing a healthy sleep routine
- Meditation and mindfulness can help reduce stress, which can aggravate pain
- Pacing strategies
Reach out to your local brain injury association and look into resources or support groups for brain injury survivors. Other people may have experience managing chronic pain and be able to offer support.