Upper extremity pain after spinal cord injury

Spinal Cord. 1999 Mar;37(3):191-5. doi: 10.1038/sj.sc.3100802.


Objective: Patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) may complain of upper extremity (UE) pain. The purpose of this study was to determine the frequency and severity of UE pain as well as its association with functional activities. Types of treatments that SCI patients received for UE pain and the benefits of these treatments were also identified.

Study design and methods: A questionnaire of demographic variables and measures of UE pain intensity, location, treatment, and interference with functional activities was mailed to 170 persons with SCI. Data was analyzed by descriptive and comparative statistics.

Results: Of the 130 persons who responded, 76 (58.5%) (38 paraplegic, 38 tetraplegic patients) reported UE pain: 71% had shoulder pain, 53% wrist pain, 43% hand pain, and 35% elbow pain. Pain interfered with transfers in 65% (36/55) of the patients who were doing them. Of ten functional activities, pain was more likely to be associated with pressure reliefs, transfers, and wheelchair mobility. Sixty-three per cent sought medical treatment for pain, and of those, 90% received either physical therapy, pharmacological treatment or massage. Although only 27% had wheelchair or home modification or joint protection education, these approaches were helpful for almost all and very helpful or extremely helpful in 26.6% and 63.6% of the patients, respectively.

Conclusion: UE pain is a common problem in individuals with SCI and has impact on daily activities. UE pain prevention and management programs are needed for SCI patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Paraplegia / complications
  • Prognosis
  • Quadriplegia / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires