Everybody needs a break, right? For Veterans dealing with problems like chronic pain, coupled with weight problems and poor diet, the first step may seem insurmountable.
The McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. has a group dedicated to teaching Veterans to take the steps needed to overcome chronic pain. The Veterans Integrative Pain (VIP) Center uses self-management techniques to break the pain cycle and turn around someone’s overall health.
“Think of VIP as an empowering wellness center where you take back your health,” said Dr. Meghan Rooney, a psychologist and co-clinical coordinator at the VIP Center. Rooney said she is not aware of any other program like this in our medical center region.
VIP offers wellness initiatives such as acupuncture, anti-inflammatory diet group, biofeedback, mindfulness and meditation, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. “We have front row seats to the changes in people’s lives,” Rooney said. “This stuff is working. People are living again.”
“The pain is mild compared to what it used to be.”
At the VIP Center, Veterans are encouraged to take the lead in their health care. One of those Veterans, Marine Corps Veteran Kelvin Willis has been coming to McGuire since 1982.
“I used to have a lot of pain,” Willis explained. “Now, the pain is mild compared to what it used to be. I’m exercising and eating the proper food.”
During a recent Qi Gong class, each class member worked to replicate the fluid-like hand and arm motions while maintaining a steady midsection and firmly-planted feet. Dr. Mark Farrington explained to the class how this traditional Chinese practice uses a combination of body posture, movement, and breathing control to bring healing and energy to the body.
Farrington, a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at the VIP Center, also performs acupuncture and mindfulness and meditation. Many of the techniques and methods used at the VIP Center are used in private practice all over the world, he said.
“In everything I do, mindfulness has a direct effect on the perception of pain—leading to more acceptance and less stress,” Farrington said.
Imagine cutting a wedge out of a lemon and placing it to the tongue, Farrington posited. The body automatically begins to respond with increased saliva or the lock-jaw feeling. The body’s response from the brain is an example of the power of the mind.
“Pain comes from injury, but chronic pain activates the nervous system,” Farrington said. “Learning to accept the pain improves the overall reaction to chronic pain.”
Willis, who has participated in Qi Gong, Tai Chi and the anti-inflammatory diet group, said he has lost 28 pounds since he began programs at the VIP center.
“But, I’m looking to go 40 pounds,” Willis added.