Pain across traumatic injury groups: A National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research model systems study

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2020 Oct;89(4):829-833. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002849.


Background: Pain is a common problem after traumatic injury. We describe pain intensity and interference at baseline and 1 year postinjury in burn, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and spinal cord injury (SCI) survivors and compare them with the general population (GP). We tested a custom Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) pain interference short form developed for use in trauma populations.

Methods: We administered a pain intensity numerical rating scale and custom PROMIS pain interference short forms at baseline and/or 1 year postinjury from participants (≥18 years) at three Model System projects (burn, TBI, and SCI). Scores were compared across injury groups and pain intensity levels, and to the GP. Reliability and floor and ceiling effects of the custom PROMIS pain measures were calculated.

Results: Participants (burn, 161; TBI, 232; SCI, 134) responded to the pain intensity and/or pain interference measures at baseline (n = 432), 1 year (n = 288), or both (n = 193). At baseline, pain interference and intensity were both significantly higher in all three groups than in the GP (all p < 0.01). At 1 year, average pain intensity in SCI and burn (p < 0.01) participants was higher than the GP, but only SCI participants reported higher pain interference (p < 0.01) than the GP. Half of all participants reported clinically significant pain interference (55 or higher) at baseline and one third at 1 year. Reliability of the custom pain interference measure was excellent (>0.9) between T-scores of 48 and 79.

Conclusion: The custom pain interference short forms functioned well and demonstrated the utility of the custom PROMIS pain interference short forms in traumatic injury. Results indicate that, for many people with burn, TBI and SCI, pain remains an ongoing concern long after the acute injury phase is over. This suggests a need to continue to assess pain months or years after injury to provide better pain management for those with traumatic injuries.

Level of evidence: Epidemiologic/Therapeutic study, level IV.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Burns / physiopathology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*