This is a part of the Hot Topic podcast series from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center on Managing Pain After Spinal Cord Injury. Elizabeth Felix, PhD, discusses Assessing Pain in People with Spinal Cord Injury.

An individual with spinal cord injury could have lots of different kinds of pain. Because they have had a Spinal Cord Injury, clearly there is injury to the nervous system. Things are going on in the body and this can set up a system within the somatosensory system, the nociceptive system, that disturbs normal processing of information and creates what is termed neuropathic pain. But there are other types of pain that people with SCI often have and they can be a result of overuse syndromes. In shoulder pain, for example, if you use your wheelchair a lot and you’re doing repeated motions, it can cause shoulder pain.

My role in the study is to make sure we’re measuring pain accurately and reliably in our patients so that we can see if there are any changes and be able to document them. So there are a number of tools that you can use to measure pain. One of the simplest ones is to ask a person to rate it on a scale from zero to ten, where zero is no pain and ten is the most intense pain imaginable. Using just a simple scale like that, it’s been shown that this is a very reliable and accurate scale, so that if a person first rates their pain at a six and then it goes down to a three, there’s actual pain reduction there.

PROVIDER: How would you say the intensity of your shoulder pain is?


A very intense pain in one person may be treated differently than a very intense pain in another person. The first person may be able to ignore it or cope with it in an appropriate way and they’re able to get around in their life. But the other person who has the same intensity of pain may not be able to cope with it as well.

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