Monday, April 9, 2012

NPR Story: The Weight Of War: New Efforts To Treat Pain

The Weight Of War: New Efforts To Treat Pain
ClipArt cartoon:  "my rucksack"
First aired on NPR's KUOW (94.9FM) February 15th, 2011.  To listen, click here.
Carrying the usual 70-80lbs of gear for the infantryman is causing long-term problems such as degenerative arthritis.  Why?  Possibly due to delayed diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions such as a muscle or ligament sprain or strain.  A soldier in the field is discouraged by peers from seeking medical care for a minor injury such as a twisted ankle or sprained neck.  Soldiers are trained to grin and bear it and carry on with the mission.  This is a useful and necessary philosophy short term.  However, long-term, according to the story, these untreated repetitive muscle injuries are becoming chronic pain problems.

How is the Army, in general, responding to it? 
They are looking for low-cost and non-opioid ways of treating pain in returning soldiers and veterans.
"An ounce of prevention could potentially save the taxpayers millions.
Veterans Affairs (VA) disability payments to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan retired with muscular skeletal conditions are around $500 million a year. That's a conservative estimate. The figure could soar much higher as tens of thousands of military personnel leave the armed forces and file for disability."--Patricia Murphy, NPR news correspondent

The use of CAM therapy, which includes acupuncture, massage, yoga, and meditation, helps musculoskeletal injuries heal and reduces dependence on opioids.  TriCare, the insurance company for active duty servicemembers, their families, and military retirees, says it will not cover complementary therapy until "proper clinical trials have been conducted".  I am not sure what they mean by this.  There are many studies that have shown the statistically significant benefits of acupuncture on pain management, and published in the English language, over the past 10 years. [More studies over decades but published in Chinese, German, and French.]

"Mind–body therapies like yoga and meditation can help patients manage stress and in turn help them deal with chronic pain. Flynn says this type of introspective care model is a major cultural shift for military docs, some of whom have a reputation for being too tough on patients complaining of pain."--Patricia Murphy

According to Patricia Murphy's story, Madigan Army Medical Center, near Tacoma, WA, has 3 medical acupuncturists on staff as the story aired (February 2011).  Madigan wants its new pain management program with acupuncture, massage, and yoga as well as standard pain management modalities (physical therapy) running by 2013.  This is part of the Army-wide Pain Management Initiative.  Colonel Flynn is the director of the Pain Management program at Madigan.  Colonel Kevin Galloway heads this Army Pain Management Task Force.

"In an effort to provide better pain care, the Army Surgeon General has directed the Army's hospitals to incorporate more alternative therapies into patients' treatment plans.  Under the Army Surgeon General's plan, these therapies will become part of a standard of care. Colonel Kevin Galloway heads the Army Pain Task Force. He says the Army Surgeon General is committed to implementing this comprehensive, integrated care model, though he wouldn't speculate about how long it might take."
--Patricia Murphy

The Army incorporating acupuncture and other CAM* therapies into available treatment at MTFs** is exciting news!  Those who receive regular health care treatment at MTFs have been requesting CAM therapies such as acupuncture and massage therapy to be available to them at their local MTF for several years now.  [See related post on "Research:  CAM therapy . . ."]    Peace and healing to all those involved in this exciting change in military medicine.

*CAM = complementary and alternative medicine.  This is a catch-all phrase for all medical modalities that are not taught to physicians during standard American medical school training.  These modalities generally include the following therapies and medical studies/theories:  Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT), naturopathy, meditation, yoga therapy, Tai Chi, reflexology, energywork, Reiki, chiropractic, massage therapy, whole foods nutrition, and Ayurveda.
**MTF = military treatment facility
[illustrations from ClipArt.]

--Megan Kingsley Gale, EAMP/L.Ac., LMP
East Asian Medicine Practitioner/Licensed Acupuncturist, Licensed Massage Practitioner
Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine  

Related posts:
What is the Training/Education Level of Your Acupuncturist?
Research: The Use of CAM Therapy Among Soldiers, Retirees
Meditation for Combat-Related Stress
NPR 5 minute story: Acupuncture in Army Medicine
Video: Acupuncture in Military--Kandahar
Acupuncture Used to Treat TBI at Military Concussive Care Center
Art Therapy for PTSD and TBI at Walter Reed

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