How to Manage Chronic Pain in the Military
Whether you’re a veteran of the military or are active duty, you know that pain (and more specifically, chronic pain) is common especially after being deployed or going through training. In fact, a study done in 2016 showed that military personnel who were deployed in the Middle East saw a higher increase in pain and chronic pain symptoms after returning home when compared to normal citizens. Chronic pain is the most common physical ailment reported by service members with 50% of male and 75% of female military personnel complaining of pain symptoms and side effects. Out of all of the branches of the military, it is reported that members of the Army were at a higher risk for chronic pain while Navy members were at the lowest risk.
Many service members suffer from mental health trauma and conditions on top of chronic pain which is why it’s so important to get into pain management as soon as it starts. If you are a current service member of the military or a veteran dealing with chronic pain, know that you are not alone and that you do not have to suffer through it. Today, we’re breaking down the effects that chronic pain can have on the body and ways that service members can manage it at home or while deployed.
The effects of chronic pain
In the late 90s, the Veterans Health Administration made chronic pain a priority focus to address pain management in veterans and to improve their overall quality of life. And while this is a step in the right direction, it has been reported that these pain management programs often lack consistency and can even lead to other mental health issues such as PTSD, trauma, and even opioid abuse and addiction. Because chronic pain is directly related to a good mental health standing, it’s no surprise that most service members that are found to have chronic pain also deal with a number of brain and emotional issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and more. But your mental health isn’t the only thing at stake when dealing with chronic pain. In fact, there are a number of side effects that can come along with long-term pain if untreated:
· Chronic pain is often accompanied with a poor sleep schedule especially if you deal with flare-ups of pain during the night or if laying down causes discomfort. Many people with chronic pain also wake up several times during the night which disturbs their deepest stage of sleep. A lack of sleep can leave you feeling tired, irritable, and less equipped to deal with feelings of pain and discomfort.
· Feelings of guilt are also common in people who have long-term pain. The most regular guilty feelings from military personnel suffering from chronic pain come from a work perspective. In the military, you’re taught to be strong and push through any uncomfortable feelings including aches and soreness so when chronic pain gets bad enough that they have to take a leave, it leads to feelings of shame and guilt.
· It’s no surprise that military members suffer a greater risk of alcohol dependency issues when compared to any other profession. One study shows that service members spend an average of one third of the year drinking alcohol while regular civilians only spend less than one fourth. And while much of this risk has to do with depression and other mental health-related issues, a large portion of service members also depend on alcohol to help ease the pain.
How to manage chronic pain in the military
All these side effects (and more) can ultimately lead to a lower quality of life and can result in life-changing events such as marriage or relationship issues, depression, low sex drive, and more. While the military does have physical health institutions in place, many service members are either hesitant to reach out for help or are in a position with their current deployment that they are not able to get the help they need. If this sounds like something you or a loved one in the military is dealing with, there are ways to manage chronic pain that are available to almost anyone.
1. Exercise is key.
Depending on your role in the military, you may not be getting as much exercise as is recommended. And while exercising with chronic pain seems like a difficult task, it’s actually one of the most important steps to pain management. Working out releases endorphins into our brain which both improves your mood and blocks pain signals. It also helps to strengthen your muscles which results in a lower risk of further injury and pain. Even though exercise can be a daunting task when living with chronic pain, it doesn’t have to be that way. Start off by taking walks and doing yoga or light cardio. From there, you’ll be able to figure out what routine works for you and feels the best for your body.
2. Cut back on alcohol and smoking.
While drinking alcohol can temporarily lessen the feelings of chronic pain, it may be worsening your condition in the long run. This is because alcohol disturbs our quality of sleep which can weaken the ability the body has to manage pain. Similarly, smoking cigarettes can also increase your symptoms of chronic pain because while it may dull it at first, tobacco decreases blood and nutrient flow to the affected areas.
3. Track your pain level.
It’s important to understand when pain flare-ups occur and what activities are associated with them. This can help you re-think and adjust your daily routine to activities that do not cause physical pain. Try keeping a notebook to document how your pain level feels day to day to keep track of what works and doesn’t work for you.
4. Talk with your fellow service members.
Always remember that you are not alone in dealing with chronic pain, especially if you are in the military or are a veteran. Try talking with your fellow service members about their pain management and what they do to help lessen the symptoms of chronic pain. Not only will you get some of their personal insight on pain management, but you’ll also feel so much better knowing that this isn’t a lonely fight.
5. Use pain relief patches.
At-home pain relief doesn’t just come in the form of over-the-counter medications. In fact, pain relief patches such as the SINSINPAS AREX Instant Pain Relief Patch provide long-lasting relief for chronic pain and aches of the muscles and joints. They’re also made with flexible, strong fabric that allows for movement whether you’re working or relaxing. The SINSINPAS AREX Pain Relief Patches are affordable, accessible to just about everyone, and non-addictive (unlike many other pain relief medications.) The SINSINPAS AREX Pain Relief Patches are recommended for anyone in the military or veterans suffering from aches or chronic pain to help relieve symptoms while keeping you on the go.