For this study of intractable pain after spinal cord injury (SCI), a questionnaire was developed, pilot-tested and mailed to 356 previously hospitalized SCI patients, 200 (56%) of whom returned the completed questionnaire. Of the respondents, 160 (80%) reported abnormal sensation and 96 (48%) called the discomfort painful. Abnormal sensations were first noted within 6 months of injury by 105 patients, from 7 months to 4 years after injury by 39, and longer than 4 years after injury or unknown by 16. Pain locations varied and were unrelated to the level of lesion. In 30% of those reporting abnormal sensation the location of pain remained stationary, whereas in 17% it changed over time. The intensity of pain was described as severe to extreme by 25%; 44% indicated that it interfered with daily activities. Increase of pain over time was noted by 41%. Activity, inactivity, weather change and overexertion were not frequently identified as aggravating circumstances. Rest and medication were cited as alleviating factors. Approximately 38% of those experiencing pain used medications but only 22% obtained consistent relief from their use. Patients with low level lesions were more willing to exchange a hypothetical chance of recovery and/or loss of reacquired physiologic functions for pain relief than were patients with higher lesions.