Returning service members are likely to experience a variety of chronic pain conditions. They may be the result of injury sustained in field operations or in other types of service. They are often associated with other conditions prevalent among veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. Developing an effective pain management plan can be challenging for both veterans, their families and their health care teams. Let’s look at 5 little known facts about veterans and chronic management.
Fact #1: There are a variety of treatments available
Managing chronic pain automatically means medication to some veterans. However, there are different approaches available that can effectively relieve pain and improve quality of life. These include medication as well as health services such as:
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- psychological therapy
New therapies and pain treatments frequently emerge. The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently decided to incorporate complementary and integrative health (CIH) therapies into treatment programs. CIH therapies recognized by the department include yoga, massage therapy, meditation and acupuncture.
Further research focusing on “non-drug approaches for pain management” to further examine the needs of veterans with chronic pain is underway. “Finding solutions for chronic pain is of critical importance, especially for military personnel and veterans who are disproportionately affected,” said National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins.
Fact #2: There are different sources of pain
Chronic pain often stems from musculoskeletal pain. Over 50% of all veterans “receiving care in VHA facilities have diagnosed MSD [musculoskeletal disorders] and that the number is growing each year.” These conditions include:
- non-traumatic joint pain
- neck pain
- back pain
These and other MSD conditions as well as mental health conditions “are increasingly being diagnosed among younger veterans.” Researchers suggest this in itself deserves further examination.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are also a major cause of chronic pain in veterans. It’s estimated that over 300,0000 service members are affected by these injuries. They are closely linked to chronic headaches as well as other types of pain.
Fact #3: Pain management varies between individuals
When it comes to pain management, there is no one size fits all approach. Different approaches and treatments will be more effective in treating certain types of pain. Likewise, certain individuals will find that certain strategies are more suitable to their personality or their lifestyle over other strategies.
In most cases, it takes a variety of treatments to provide relief. Finding the best pain approach for may mean:
- trying different types of pain management
- working out the best level and balance of each
- considering a mix of conventional approaches to pain management as well as more innovative approaches
There are powerful apps on the market that can also help to manage pain.
For veterans, chronic pain is often accompanied by other issues such as substance abuse, mental health disorders (including PTSD) and unemployment. Effective pain management must recognize these issues. Veterans, their families and VA medical centers must work together to understand how they can go hand in hand.
Fact #4: PTSD may play a role
There are clear links between chronic pain and PTSD in veterans. According to recent evidence, 15% to 35% of veterans are suffering from chronic pain and PTSD. This could be because witnessing and experiencing life-threatening traumas can lead to PTSD. Or it could be that both conditions are results of the same event.
Symptoms associated with PTSD can include:
- substance abuse
These can complicate pain management strategies and exacerbate certain issues associated with chronic pain.
Fact #5: There are many programs to help
Dealing with chronic pain can leave veterans feeling isolated. However, there are a wide variety of programs that can provide them with support and resources. The Veterans Administration and other veteran support organizations offer services available to support veterans dealing with chronic pain, PTSD and substance abuse. These include:
- Women’s Veterans Health Care Program
- Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management
- The National Center for PTSD
- Substance Abuse Screening (ASSIST)
- Heroes’ Mile Veteran Recovery and Transition Center
The U.S. Pain Foundation also runs a number of excellent programs, including the INvisible Project – the Veterans Edition. This project seeks to make veterans living with chronic pain more visible so we can all understand their challenges.
Remember: you may need to provide proof of your veteran status to these programs. You can submit a DD214 request if you need assistance obtaining the necessary documentation.
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