A Holistic Approach to Chronic Pain Management for Service Members and Veterans
Chronic pain and opioid misuse have had a devastating impact on the American population, and this burden is even greater for service members and veterans. A recent study found that 44% of soldiers in a leading U.S. Army unit experienced chronic pain after combat deployment, compared to 26% of the general population.
In response to this crisis, NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2017 to establish the Pain Management Collaboratory (PMC). The PMC focuses on researching and implementing nondrug approaches for pain management, working towards long-term restoration of health through methods such as manual therapy, yoga, and mindfulness-based interventions.
This approach to chronic pain management aims to address underlying issues, promoting overall health improvements, including better sleep, increased energy for physical activity, better nutrition choices, and improved mood. The PMC has made significant strides in translating research into real-world military healthcare settings through 11 large-scale pragmatic clinical trials across 42 veteran and military health systems, enrolling more than 8,200 participants.
Central to the PMC partnership is the whole person health framework. This approach recognizes that health exists across multiple interconnected body systems and domains. The VA's implementation of a whole health model and their unique closed-loop healthcare system offers an opportunity to deliver care, conduct research, and demonstrate the benefits of coordinated care that treats the whole person.
With Congress allocating $5 million to NCCIH in fiscal year 2023 to enhance pain research, especially for military populations, there are numerous opportunities for growth and collaboration. These additional resources will enable NCCIH to support more complex studies examining how multiple therapeutic approaches impacting multiple body systems can influence chronic pain management.
Programs such as the DOD's Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) will continue translating lessons learned into accessible pain management information for service members, promoting and maintaining their health.
Although the PMC's research program specifically targets the military community, the growing body of knowledge will benefit everyone. Understanding how to better manage chronic pain and providing more treatment options for those wishing to avoid the risks of opioids will help build resilience and restore health for the whole person. By adopting a holistic approach to pain management, we can make a significant impact on the lives of service members, veterans, and the general population.
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