“Pill Pushers and CBD Oil”—A Thematic Analysis of Social Media Interactions About Pain After Traumatic Brachial Plexus Injury

Emma T. Smolev, Liz Rolf, Eric Zhu, Sarah K. Buday, Madison Brody, David M. Brogan, Christopher J. Dy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Purpose: Brachial plexus injury (BPI) patients use on-line groups for peer support, often seeking information from Facebook groups devoted to BPI. We hypothesized that a qualitative thematic analysis of posts from BPI Facebook groups would demonstrate the areas in which patients were seeking information regarding treatment of BPI and reveal potential sources of misinformation that patients may encounter. Methods: We identified the 2 most popular public Facebook groups for BPI by searching key words “traumatic brachial plexus injury.” We selected posts containing comments regarding BPI from November 1, 2018 through October 31, 2019. We excluded posts regarding brachial plexus birth injury. We used iterative inductive and deductive thematic analysis for the qualitative data to identify recurring topics, knowledge gaps, potential roles of patient educational interventions, and patient interaction dynamics. Two investigators independently coded all posts and resolved discrepancies by discussion. Results: A total of 7,694 posts from 2 leading Facebook support groups were analyzed. Three themes emerged: (1) When discussing pain management, there was recurring anti-opioid sentiment. Posters who currently used opioids or supported those who did discussed perceived effects of the opioid epidemic on their treatment, on their relationships with care providers, and on availability of the medication. (2) Posters advocated for alternatives to traditional approaches to pain management, referring to prescribers as pill pushers and touting cannabinoids as a safer and more effective replacement. (3) There was strong anti-gabapentinoid sentiment owing to reported adverse effects and a perceived lack of efficacy, despite its role as a first-line treatment for neuropathic pain. Conclusions: Examination of posts from Facebook support groups for BPI revealed recurring themes, questions, misinformation, and opinions from posters with regard to treatment of neuropathic pain. These findings can help clinicians who care for BPI patients identify areas to focus on during patient encounters to address neuropathic pain that commonly occurs with BPI. Clinical relevance: Brachial plexus injury surgeons should be aware of information, misinformation, and opinions on social media, because these may influence patient–surgeon interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-40
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery Global Online
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Facebook support groups
  • Gabapentin
  • Opioid
  • Opioid epidemic
  • Qualitative thematic analysis


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