Spinal Cord Injury, Weather and Pain…
I’m sure you already understand the connection between weather and pain if you have any sort of old injury (knee, hip, ankle) that you can feel acting up when it rains. What is that all about? Is it the actual wet water…or the change in barometric pressure that happens with changes in weather systems or is it just a crazy idea altogether? I don’t know the scientific answer…but I can only tell you what I think that my own body answers.
I had an old knee injury from a car wreck in college that would always bother me when it was going to rain. Now that I am paralyzed, that knee pain never bothers me anymore. The change in barometric pressure will affect a weak area in your body.
The weak area in my body now, is a damaged spinal cord…at a pretty high level. My spinal cord was damaged at the C5-C7 vertebrae level (which are located in your neck). If you know the spinal cord, you also know that nerve roots go out from the level on your spinal cord to the parts of your body to control the body’s movement and sensation. So, if the spinal cord is now damaged, when the barometric pressure changes, it can really wreak havoc on your parts of the body that those nerves connect to.
The logical question is then, “how can you feel anything if you are paralyzed?” That is a great question and the simplest answer is that I don’t “feel” normal, but I DO feel a LOT! I can’t feel touch or any normal sensation, and I can’t make things move, but every time my brain sends a command down my spinal cord to even try to figure out what is going on, it hits that damaged spot and just goes crazy. So, I have a ton of nerve pain that expresses itself in my body as lightning bolt pain (a quick jolt that runs through your body and takes your breath away), as extreme burning pain (like my body being sanded), vibrating pain (like when your hand falls asleep and it is in that horrible stage of trying to wake up and you don’t want to move or touch it yet), and the your squeezing-me-too-tight pain that feels like someone has wrapped you up way to tight in an ace bandage and their squeezing the blood out of you. That sounds dramatic and graphic, but that truly describes nerve pain that never leaves my body…but are in varying degrees from a hushed whisper to screaming loudly. Because my spinal cord was damaged high, that nerve pain covers my neck, my entire torso, my arms and my legs. Sometimes it even affects the right side of my head. I am an incomplete injury so some nerves are still connected and work to certain areas of my body in sensation and movement, but are left altered in a variation of strength or sensation. More on this later!
On top of the nerve pain all over my body, my working body parts are overused to compensate for the non-working parts so muscles and joints are always complaining about that! More on this later too!
The weather (barometric pressure) changes DO affect the volume of that pain in me. When weather is moving in it is the absolute worst. I feel HORRIBLE about an hour before it rains. Once it starts raining, and settles in, I still feel bad but it is better than before it rains. I feel the absolute best in sunshine and clear skies. So, when the barometric pressure is changing/moving is absolutely and consistently is made known in the levels of all sorts of pain in my body. When the pressure is stable, those are the much better days pain and activity wise.
So, if you are a health professional, or a family member or friend to someone with a spinal cord injury, or even a newer injury, it may be helpful to remember that days the weather is changing are days that you just aren’t going to be at the top of your game and adjust as needed.