In recent years, there has been a drastic surge in opioid prescriptions to treat pain. While opioids can be helpful for some pain treatment, their use on a chronic basis is controversial due to a significant number of opioid-related overdoses, which highlights a compelling need for chronic pain treatment that does not focus solely on medication.
Options available include programs that combine various health care disciplines and work together with the individual to offer comprehensive guidance on pain management.
“[Pain treatment programs] are much more limited in the private sector because unfortunately when you have the constraints of private insurance, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the most effective care. In VA, we are able to provide these interdisciplinary programs, which is the best comprehensive way to treat pain,” said Jennifer Murphy Ph.D., clinical director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program (CPRP) at the Tampa, Florida VA Medical Center.
Veterans undergo an intensive regimen of treatments and therapies but also are taught skills than what would not normally be prescribed in the private sector.
“Instead of being dependent on pills and other passive treatment ‘fixes’ that too often fall short, our program and those like ours teach patients daily skills to take with them so that their pain does not feel so overwhelming,” said Murphy.
Veterans are taught a simple, but often overlooked, technique that is highly effective for pain management: relaxation, which helps reduce muscle tension. They are also given the choice of several arts and crafts projects, including painting, copper matting, and leather crafting which serve as a coping method and a means to increase pleasurable activities, something that has often been sacrificed due to pain limitations. Dietitians and chaplains also help by providing information about how nutrition and spirituality can help them manage pain.
These techniques combined with more traditional treatments such as physical and aquatic therapies as well as counseling from psychologists create a comprehensive alternative to opioids that focuses on the whole person with the goal of making life more tolerable and increasing the overall quality and personal enjoyment.
The ability to treat pain without taking opioids means everything to Veterans like Christopher Anderson, a U.S. Army Veteran who traveled across the country to attend the inpatient CPRP in Tampa.
“You know the amount of relief you are going to get [from opioids] and what kind of function you are going to have after. I have the tools to do the same thing now, without having to take opioids,” Anderson said.
Like Anderson, the American Pain Society has saw the benefits of the program and recognized the CPRP as a clinical center of excellence for helping Veterans achieve a better quality of life by optimizing their level of physical, emotional and social functioning in the home, community, and workplace.
While some of the pain may never go away, Veterans can take back control of their lives by actively managing their pain through various treat options. VA is one of the country’s leader in providing comprehensive pain treatments and now offers 20 Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Programs across the country.
Veterans can learn more about pain treatment options at http://www.va.gov/painmanagement/ or consult your local VA physician.