Managing Pain After Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden jolt to your head that temporarily changes the way your brain works. A TBI can change the way you think, act, feel, and move. Because everybody's brain is different, no two TBIs are the same. This means that your symptoms and recovery will be hard to predict. However, pain is one symptom that many people with TBI have.
Because a TBI is caused by a jolt to the head, there may be an injury to the brain that causes pain. There may also be an injury to your neck or other parts of your body. The most common types of pain after a TBI are headache and neck pain.
There is a chance that having a TBI will make you more sensitive to pain. Pain can make other symptoms of a TBI seem worse. Studies show that about half of people being treated for a TBI complain of long-lasting pain, also called chronic pain.
Why managing pain is important
Work with your primary healthcare provider or TBI provider to get your pain under control. Here's why:
Pain can keep you from participating in activities that help your brain heal, like exercise and physical therapy.
Pain can make common symptoms of a TBI worse. These include sleep problems, fatigue, slowed thinking, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Some TBI symptoms, like depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and fatigue, can lower your resistance to pain. This makes your pain seem worse.
How to manage TBI pain
Strong pain medicines, called opiates or narcotics, are usually not the answer for pain from a TBI. These pain medicines can have unpredictable effects on your brain. In fact, they can make some TBI problems worse, like slowed thinking, memory loss, substance abuse, fatigue, and depression.
The first choice for pain medicine is what's called a nonnarcotic medicine. Examples include muscle relaxants, numbing medicines applied to the skin, and over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Other important ways to manage pain include:
Get daily exercise for your body and your brain.
Learn to avoid too much stress and relax. Try listening to music, meditating, or deep breathing.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
Take part in physical therapy to move your muscles and make them stronger.
Work with a mental health expert to reduce stress and anxiety.
Avoid foods and drinks that seem to trigger your headaches.
Living with pain affects you and everyone around you. It is important to talk about your pain and seek the support of friends and loved ones. Avoiding other people and suffering in silence is dangerous for you. It also will only make your pain feel worse. Learn as much as you can about your condition and work closely with your healthcare providers that are managing your care.
Pain and other symptoms of a TBI usually go away with time. Managing pain well can help you heal faster. Never try to treat pain on your own with drugs or alcohol. Don't take any pain medicines unless you check with your healthcare provider first, and call them if your pain is getting worse. Finding ways to manage pain is possible. Work with your healthcare providers to help you find ways to self-manage so you can return to work and recreational activities.