Chronic pain affects millions every year in the US – more than 100 million, according to a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) – impacting the quality of life of people of all ages and walks of life. And yet, if there’s a specific population group that deserves special attention when it comes to managing chronic pain, it’s active military and war veterans.
Pain is a leading cause of war veterans’ disability, and acute and chronic pain burden active soldiers and veterans in significantly higher proportions than those of the general population. A 2014 report published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that chronic pain affects 44 percent of members of the military after combat deployment, compared to 26 percent in the general public.
Combat injuries can affect the peripheral and central nervous system, often resulting in severe acute pain (which, when left untreated, can lead to complex chronic pain syndromes). Aside from having to overcome the life-threatening consequences of their injuries, most wounded soldiers are unable to make a fast recovery, mainly due to the difficulties of coping with debilitating pain and attempting to regain their quality of life. Furthermore, post-traumatic stress, depression, traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, fatigue, and sleep disorders often accompany chronic pain in returning service members.
Pain is not, however, the only issue. The same 2014 JAMA report reveals that substance abuse is also common among chronic pain sufferers: 15 percent reported using opioids on a regular basis, compared to 4 percent of the general public.
While prescription drugs are important in managing certain types of pain, the use of opioids for long-term chronic pain can often become problematic. This is because many of the drugs available to manage chronic pain and associated problems are not consistently effective, providing only short-term relief and exposing users to a wide range of severe side effects.
New Approach for Pain Management among War Veterans
The National Pain Management Strategy enacted by the VA in 1998 was aimed at providing a standardized approach for chronic pain management, while ensuring adequate and effective pain treatment for war veterans. However, managing chronic pain is a much more complex process that often requires a variety of approaches in order to obtain successful long-term results.
Attempting to bring forth an integrative model of non-drug treatments for assisting military personnel with pain management, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) delivered several recommendations earlier this year, suggesting that large-scale research should do the following:
- Carry out changes in the use of opioids upon evaluating the impact of pain on patient’s function and quality of life
- Consider a holistic approach to care rather than resorting to individual complementary treatments for pain management
- Focus on treatment of patients in the early stages of chronic pain
- Encourage natural experiments whenever possible
- Remain pragmatic in the delivery of health-care services
Hopefully, more veterans will turn to complementary and integrative health approaches in order to deal with their condition. Among the recommended alternatives to painkillers, acupuncture, chiropractic care, physical therapy, and psychotherapy are considered the most useful. Experts believe that raising awareness of the negative effects of opioid use for chronic pain management, as well as encouraging patients to access alternative methods, will eventually decrease prescription opioid abuse, which annually leads to the death of thousands of people.
If you are a returning service member who is currently battling debilitating chronic pain, your next step should be to contact a reputable chiropractic clinic in your local area. An experienced chiropractor can help you identify the source of your pain and design a treatment plan that will allow your body to heal itself.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.