Combating Opioids with Physical Therapy for Veterans
After years of dedicated service, many veterans return from active-duty service and deployment with chronic pain and other physical and mental health conditions.
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons veterans seek care from a physician. Many veterans are put on multiple medications, including opioids, to treat dual diagnosis. Among veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, musculoskeletal ailments, joint and back pain, and mental disorders are the leading diagnoses.
Growing concerns over opioid addiction and mental health have forced providers to rethink prescribing practices and recommend alternative therapies. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs continues to conduct research on veterans with chronic pain. Complementary and integrative medicine, including physical therapy, is a safe and effective way to help veterans manage chronic pain without opioids.
As movement specialists, physical therapists can help you rehab an injury or manage symptoms related to chronic illness and pain. They can spot improper biomechanics and movement dysfunctions, like problems with gait or posture. PT can help improve your mobility, restore balance and strength, and teach you exercises to do at home.
Physical therapy also includes:
- Patient education on pain management
- Pinpointing the source of the pain
- Manual therapies
- Personalized exercises and stretches
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
- Hot and cold therapies
- Dry needling
- Aquatic therapy
- Treatment for pain related to neurological and spine conditions
- McKenzie Method and Schroth Method for scoliosis
PTs can help you become aware of daily habits and lifestyle factors that may aggravate your pain and how to correct or avoid them. They develop an individualized treatment plan around your lifestyle and fitness level. They can discuss what foods to eat, how to safely incorporate exercise, and good self-care strategies so you minimize your pain. A physical therapist can teach you specialized techniques for everyday activities and how to make healthy lifestyle choices going forward.
The VA offers other tips for helping to manage chronic pain:
- Pace yourself
- Practice relaxation and stress reduction
- Prioritize exercise and physical activity
- Focus on activities you enjoy
- Share how you feel
- Try to focus on the positive
- Limit caffeine, tobacco and alcohol
- Improve sleep habits
- Make healthy food choices
Stay active and try alternative therapies! It can be tempting to sit around when you don’t feel well or your body aches, but movement helps reduce pain. Gentle stretches and yoga keep the joints lubricated and your spine flexible. In some cases, you can do exercises sitting down or use a stability ball or foam roller on the floor.
Even simple things like taking your dog for a walk, bicycling around your neighborhood, or getting out in nature does wonders for your overall health. Acupuncture and massage can also relieve tension in the body and reduce pain. Sign up for a tai chi or yoga class so you are around other people and forced to commit to an exercise plan!
In addition, don’t ignore your mental health. If you are a veteran who also suffers from anxiety, depression or PTSD, good mental health care should accompany a pain management program. Chronic pain can permeate all aspects of your life and magnify negative thoughts. Try to remember there are plenty of tools, resources, and people who want to help!
People who hurt often start to isolate themselves, cancel appointments and fun activities, and stay home and self-medicate. Often, untreated pain can exacerbate feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with both. It’s important that you don’t fall into unhealthy coping strategies or spiral into addiction.
Mental and emotional wellness is crucial to coping with chronic pain and building resilience. Seek out a therapist, try mindfulness meditation, and employ other self-care strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help change the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to pain and improve coping strategies.
Chronic pain can take a toll on one’s quality of life and mental attitude. Taking painkillers may provide temporary relief, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Veterans can find hope by seeking out a team of skilled health care professionals, physical and cognitive therapists, and focusing on total body health and wellness.
Generation Care celebrates and supports veterans and active-duty military. Our skilled therapists want to help you on your road to recovery and give you the tools to lead a full life free of pain. You don’t have to go it alone or revolve your day around taking medication.