Coping with Chronic Pain as a Veteran
Chronic pain, one of the most common medical problems, is any pain that persists after your body has healed, usually after three to six months.
Some types of chronic pain include headaches, low back, neck, and other muscle, joint or nerve pains. These problems may be caused by an injury or an ongoing medical problem like arthritis or diabetes. In many other cases, the exact cause of chronic pain is unknown.
How you respond when you hurt is essential for managing any type of chronic pain. Many efforts to reduce pain in the short term create increased pain, suffering, and disability in the long term. This includes taking more medicine, resting or avoiding activities.
There are multiple treatment options available to treat your chronic pain. No single treatment is suitable for everyone. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible treatment options and decide which ones are best for you.
Opioids and chronic pain
Opioids are natural or manufactured chemicals that can reduce pain. Healthcare providers prescribe them. Opioids work by changing the way your brain senses pain. Some common opioids are:
Healthcare providers used to think that opioids could safely reduce chronic pain when used for extended periods. New information has taught us that long-term opioid use may not be helpful or safe for treating chronic pain.
New knowledge leads to new practices
We have learned three key things through studying opioids and chronic pain. This new information has changed medical practice.
- Opioids will only temporarily “take the edge” off pain no matter the dose. You will not be pain-free over the long term.
- There are very significant risks that come with using these medicines. Higher doses carry greater risks with very little evidence of any additional benefit.
- There is absolutely no safe dose of opioids. An overdose is possible even when you are using your opioids as prescribed.
Facts about opioids
Opioids have many effects in addition to reducing pain. They slow your mind and body and can cause shortness or loss of breath. Long-term opioid use can cause multiple other problems, including:
- Increased pain
- Accidental overdose or death
- Opioid use disorder or addiction
- Problems with sleep, mood, hormones and immune system
Treating pain without opioids
Many treatments can be helpful with chronic pain, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Non-opioid pain medicines
- Physical therapy and exercise
- Nerve blocks or surgery
- Acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic
The best long-term treatment for chronic pain requires you to be involved in your own care. Self-management includes taking care of yourself in ways other than taking medicines, having surgery, or using other medical treatments. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you learn to respond differently to your chronic pain and reduce its effects on your daily life.
You should work with your healthcare provider to develop an individual treatment plan based on realistic expectations and goals. For most people, long-term improvements will depend more on what you can do to help yourself in lieu of what medical providers can do for you. Appropriate goals focus on improving your overall quality of life instead of providing urgent and complete pain relief.
Source: Veterans Health Library