Category: Spine Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: August 15, 2017
Spine pain is a very common issue in today’s society, but it is even more common in veterans. Not only are they routinely put through physical tests both in training and in the field, but they are often carrying 20-50 pounds of gear at the same time. The extra weight and the physical movements take a huge toll on the spine, and that’s not even accounting for back injuries that occur during combat.
Treating military personnel and veterans for spine pain is oftentimes trickier than the average patient. It’s true that veterans are typically great at sticking to a rehab plan, but the difficulty comes in when pain medications are added to the equation. Painkillers can trigger PTSD or other mental health conditions, and then there’s the problem of dependency. Nobody would blame a veteran for wanting to calm their pain, but if they start self-medicating or taking more than advised, addiction and abuse can lead them down a dark path. So how can we best manage spine pain among our veterans here in Minnesota?
Managing Spine Pain in Veterans
Treating spine pain in veterans is similar to treating the average patient, but there are more areas of potential concern that doctors need to be keep an eye on. The wrong combination of opioids and painkillers can lead to addiction, abuse and suicidal tendencies in the average population, and if you add the mental scars some veterans rightly have from their combat days, opioids can cause more harm than good.
As a general rule for every patient, we don’t like to use painkillers as a long-term solution. Opioids can certainly help manage pain, but they don’t actively treat the problem. We want to focus on solutions that actively help combat your back pain. So while painkillers certainly can help the right patient, they aren’t great at solving the pain problem. Doctors need to inform patients about this so that they don’t expect their pain to magically resolve. Unrealistic expectations can also lead to poor pill management.
For veterans and other back pain sufferers, active treatments are best. A recent study found that the vast majority of veterans with back pain who underwent a 12-week yoga program experienced a decrease in pain scores, a decrease in opioid intake and a decrease in disability scores. Whether it’s yoga, tai chi, swimming, cycling or another activity, we’ve found that exercise therapy can work wonders for low back pain. Your doctor can suggest exactly what activities may be best for you based on your specific situation.
Finally, in order to best treat veterans we also need to keep an eye on mental health. Managing your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health when you’re recovering from an injury. Doctors need to let patients know that they are there for them if they have any questions, and they can recommend counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy in conjunction with their physical rehab recommendations. Doctors are often so used to treating the physical scars that they forget about the invisible scars on the inside. Monitoring mental health, mood and overall happiness levels during an interaction with a patient can help predict how rehabilitation will go and predict what problems could develop down the road. If we prepare for these potential issues, we can sometimes avoid them. This is important for every patient, but it’s especially crucial for veterans.