What is chronic pain?
Do you have an injury that doesn’t seem to get better? Are you often irritable because of constant physical discomfort? Is it difficult to stand, walk, sit, or do everyday tasks? These can all be signs of chronic pain.
When a person experiences pain in one or more areas of the body, such as the neck, head, arm, or leg, for at least three to six months, it is considered chronic pain. The pain may be nagging or severe and often seems worse than short-term pain because of its prolonged duration. General wear and tear from aging, as well as different types of illnesses and injuries, can cause chronic pain.
Some Veterans have chronic pain from lasting effects of injuries that occurred in the military, such as a "phantom limb" after an amputation or back or spinal cord damage after an accident. Many times, injuries suffered in military training or during deployment may seem to have healed, but as you age, they can re-emerge and become a source of chronic pain. Often it is hard to figure out the source of long-term pain.
Many people experience chronic pain at some point in their lives. Chronic pain can hinder or even prevent common, day-to-day activities like sitting, standing, and waiting in line. Many people who deal with chronic pain find the constant experience of pain and the restrictions it places on their daily activities makes them feel down or irritable. Some people become depressed or hopeless if they think the pain will never end or there is nothing they can do about it.
“In combat, I had no other option than to ‘suck up’ the pain and ‘drive on.’ But now that I’m back, it’s a relief to know there are ways for me to cope with it.”
When it comes to chronic pain, you don’t have to just live with it. Depending on what’s causing the pain, there are various options for chronic pain treatment, such as:
- Physical therapy to increase your level of pain-free activity
- Therapy or counseling to change the way you relate to or cope with your pain
- Relaxation and mindfulness techniques to manage the stress of chronic pain
- In some cases, advanced medications or other treatments to reduce the level of severe pain
If I’m experiencing chronic pain, what can I do about it right away?
If you are experiencing chronic pain, there are a few things you can do to deal with your symptoms and improve your well-being:
- Tell your doctor about it. He or she can help develop a treatment plan for you.
- Educate yourself on your condition so you can decide on the best options for managing your pain.
- Keep a “pain diary,” where you can record your progress with pain and how it affects your life.
- Find ways to stay physically active, according to the recommendations of your doctor.
Your friends and family members have likely noticed that your chronic pain is affecting your life. Talking to them can be especially helpful as you look for the type of chronic pain treatment that is right for you.
Take the next step to connect with care.
Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.
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Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.
Explore these resources for more information about chronic pain in Veterans.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to chronic pain, such as depression, posttraumatic stress, and alcohol or drug problems.