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The Battle Beyond: Addressing Chronic Pain in Veterans

The bravery of our veterans is undisputed, their sacrifices immeasurable. Yet, for many, the battle doesn’t conclude with their service; it continues in the form of pain that can follow them into civilian life. Musculoskeletal and spinal conditions are prevalent among veterans, with the intensity of chronic pain often surpassing that found in the general population. This can lead to a host of other issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Understanding Veterans Pain

Creating a comprehensive treatment plan requires recognizing that the pain experienced by veterans can come in many forms:

1. Acute Pain: Immediate and often intense, acute pain acts as a signal to the body of harm. For veterans, it can be a reminder of injuries sustained during service.

2. Chronic Pain: This pain persists, outstaying its welcome and often occurring without a clear cause. Chronic pain is an everyday companion of veterans, requiring careful, long-term Management.

3. Nociceptive Pain: Arising from tissue damage, this type of pain is all too familiar to those who have served, often resulting from physical injuries during active duty.

4. Neuropathic Pain: Caused by nerve damage, whether from injury or conditions like diabetes, this pain can be particularly distressing and requires specialized care.

5. Musculoskeletal Pain: Among the most reported types of pain by veterans, it stems from the bones, muscles, tendons, or ligaments that can be widespread or localized.

6. Psychogenic Pain: The stresses of service can lead to psychological pain, a physical manifestation of the mental and emotional scars of duty.

7. Breakthrough Pain: Even when pain management seems successful, unexpected flares of pain can occur, representing a significant challenge for many veterans.

What Makes Chronic Pain Unique?

Chronic pain stands apart from other types of pain in its persistence and its potential to fundamentally alter an individual’s daily life. It’s not simply pain that stays a bit longer; it’s a pain that refuses to leave, often lingering without a clear end. Here’s what you need to know about this particularly challenging condition.

Chronic pain is not just a prolonged episode of acute pain but a complex condition that can entail a myriad of sensations ranging from sharp stabs to a constant, dull presence that shades every movement. It’s defined medically as pain that extends beyond the expected healing period, typically lasting longer than 12 weeks.

This pain isn’t just about the physical sensation. It can lead to significant secondary problems – physical, psychological, and emotional. Chronic pain can erode one’s ability to engage in physical activity, contributing to decreased mobility and disruption of regular, daily functions. It can also interfere with the sleep cycle, leading to fatigue and other issues related to sleep deprivation.

On the mental health front, the presence of continuous pain can be a factor in developing conditions such as depression and anxiety. Persistent discomfort can lead to irritability and stress, which may exacerbate the pain further, creating a vicious cycle.

For veterans, the statistics are particularly striking, with more than half reporting chronic pain levels above moderate intensity. This is a critical health issue within the veteran community, affecting a range of life activities and necessitating specialized, empathetic approaches to pain management.

Chronic pain in veterans, vets holding the flag.

Manifestations of Chronic Pain Among Veterans

The issue of chronic pain in military veterans presents unique challenges and complexities. It’s a condition that not only stems from combat-related injuries but also from the strenuous demands of military service and training, often showing up as musculoskeletal problems, which are the leading reasons for medical discharge across the British armed forces. Let’s explore the various ways chronic pain manifests in veterans and the underlying issues associated with it.

Musculoskeletal problems are not exclusive to the battlefield. Military service demands constant physical activity, whether through training exercises or operational duties, all carrying the risk of injury. Surveys, such as those conducted by Kang et al. and Unwin et al., consistently reveal that back

pain is the most commonly reported severe health issue among veterans, followed closely by joint pain. These issues persist irrespective of deployment, pointing to a broader endemic problem within military service that extends into veteran life.

Beyond the physical injuries that are visible and tangible, veterans often carry invisible wounds. Pain can also be expected in those who have endured severe injuries, also known as polytrauma, which frequently accompanies PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), including post-concussive syndrome.

The intersection of chronic pain with these psychological conditions creates an intricate web of challenges that complicate diagnosis and treatment.

The co-occurrence of PTSD with chronic pain adds layers of complexity to a veteran’s recovery process.

The presence of PTSD has been shown to amplify the experience of pain and can act as a barrier to engaging in successful treatment. Moreover, the additional stress from PTSD can exacerbate pain symptoms, creating a debilitating cycle that impacts all areas of life.

The diversity of military roles means that chronic pain can arise from a myriad of non-combat-related activities, too. For instance, service members in supply and electrical/mechanical trades have been reported to experience high rates of back pain, underscoring that the risk of chronic pain is not confined to front-line combat roles. The experience of chronic pain in veterans is multifaceted, influenced by a combination of physical injuries, the rigors of military service, and the psychological toll of combat and operational duties. Recognizing the diverse nature of this pain is the first step in developing effective treatment plans and providing the comprehensive care our veterans deserve.

A Call to Arms in Pain Management

Addressing chronic pain is a complex endeavor because it is deeply personal and subjective. What works for one person may not work for another; thus, a tailored approach is essential. For veterans, who often face unique physical and emotional challenges due to their service, the approach needs to be even more customized.

In daily life, chronic pain can turn routine activities into daunting tasks. Simple actions such as walking, standing, sitting, or even resting can become challenging, affecting the ability to work and engage in social activities.

In addressing chronic pain among veterans, clinicians must be well-versed in the specific needs of this population. Treatment strategies must be comprehensive, acknowledging not only the physical pain but also the psychological components that often accompany it. This calls for a multidisciplinary approach that includes pain management, mental health support, and rehabilitation services tailored to the individual needs of veterans.

Individualized Treatment Plans: Clearway’s specialists create customized treatment strategies, considering each veteran’s specific medical history, type of pain, and personal circumstances.

Multidisciplinary Care: Integrating different medical disciplines ensures that all aspects of a veteran’s pain are addressed, from physical to psychological.

Non-Opioid Therapies: Aware of the risks associated with opioid use, particularly in the veteran population, Clearway emphasizes treatments that minimize the need for these medications.

Cutting-Edge Technologies: Clearway stays abreast of the latest pain management innovations, offering veterans access to the most advanced treatments.

Supportive Services: Recognizing the mental health toll of chronic pain, Clearway provides supporting services to address the emotional and psychological impacts.

Veteran Education: Empowering veterans with knowledge about their conditions and treatment options is a priority, helping them make informed decisions about their care.

Veteran, chronic pain in veterans

A Partner in Healing

For veterans, pain isn’t just a symptom; it’s a barrier to the life they’ve fought to protect. Veterans don’t have to face the aftermath of their service alone; help is available. At Clearway Pain Solutions, we don’t just treat symptoms; we treat people.

Our goal is to enhance the lives of veterans by providing them with the tools and treatments necessary to manage pain effectively, improve daily function, and restore quality of life. If you or a veteran you know is struggling with chronic pain, consider Clearway Pain Solutions as your ally on the road to recovery.

Request an Appointment

Are you ready to alleviate your pain and restore your physical function so you can live your best life – the one you want and deserve? The entire Clearway team is ready to help.

To request an appointment, please click the button below. You will be routed to our Patient Portal, where you can register with us by providing us with some basic information. We will get back as quickly as possible to set up and confirm your appointment day and time. Just below the form, we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, as well.

Any Questions?