Serving as a veteran can have long-term consequences for one’s physical and mental health, with Dr. Stephen Hunt of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Post Deployment Integrative Care Initiative noting that “folks returning from combat have a constellation of health challenges, including physical issues, psychological issues and psychosocial issues concerning things like work and family."
Long-term or chronic pain is a condition affecting over 50% of veterans receiving care at Veterans Health Administration facilities across the nation. In this article, we highlight the most common causes of long-term or chronic pain and suggest natural, everyday approaches which have been found to be successful at quelling it.
Some of the most common conditions faced by veterans that can lead to pain lasting for longer than 12 weeks include musculoskeletal pain (caused by injuries to bones and tissues), and traumatic brain injuries (which have affected over 370,000 US veterans since 2000). Chronic pain is more prominent in female than male veterans.
A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine has found that opioid prescriptions have dropped in veterans, after a peak in 2012. Lead researcher K Hadlandsmyth of the Iowa City VA Healthcare System believes that lower prescription rates may be the result of initiatives by the VHA, emphasizing non-opioid options to manage long-term and chronic pain.
One commonly used therapy for chronic pain is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been proven to be effective in those facing continuous or chronic pain. As noted in a study by D Songer et al, “Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on restructuring negative, catastrophic, inappropriate thoughts a more realistic appraisal of the patient's current condition. When a realistic perspective regarding the past, present, and future can be gained, patients may be able to more easily deal with their pain.”
In CBT, veterans are often given ‘homework’, which involves recognizing ‘automatic negative thoughts’ such as ‘This pain will never get better’, ‘I can do less and less’, or ‘I’ll never be able to have a normal life’. It is important to recognize and take action to stop these thoughts from causing further pain, anxiety, and depression. Thus, therapists often instruct patients to keep ‘pain journals’, in which they can track the specific thoughts and behaviors (triggers) that exacerbate pain.
Depending on the type of pain, lifestyle changes (including nutritional change) may be recommended. To quell nerve-related pain, for instance, keeping blood glucose levels within one’s target range can help halt nerve degeneration. When it comes to physical activity, finding the right level is since too much or too little movement can result in greater pain. Medical teams should work alongside patients to set realistic goals and establish norms for appropriate rest times and intensity levels during exercise.
Meditation is often used as a complementary treatment to bring about a calmer state. Mindfulness meditation aims to hone one’s awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and body while maintaining a ‘distance’ and practicing breathing exercises to quell stress and anxiety.
Yoga, known as ‘meditation in movement’, has been found in specific studies to help reduce lower moderate to severe chronic back pain and headaches.
There are many types of meditation used to address pain, including transcendental meditation (in which one focuses on a mantra or repeated sound) and concentration meditation (in which one focuses on one word or stimulus).
These techniques can help battle the stress caused by chronic pain. Deep breathing causes the heart rate to lower, which makes it ideal for those experiencing pain-related anxiety or panic. Progressive muscle relaxation, meanwhile, involves tightening and then releasing each muscle in the body, with the aim of helping one relax or fall asleep. Positive affirmations can be used during breathing to enhance one’s sense of being able to cope with pain.
We have mentioned just a few natural approaches to pain. If you are battling pain, see your doctor about possible natural approaches that can work for you. There is an inexorable link between our physical and mental states, so tackling stress and negative thought patterns can go a long way toward greater empowerment.
Visit our job board regularly to find companies offering jobs for veterans, and follow our blog and social media profiles to get news of job fairs in your area.By Lucy Wyndham