Chiropractic for veterans is increasing in need as CDC studies show that as many as 65% of American vets and active service members suffer from chronic pain
When most of us think about military vets, we often have an image of men and women in peak physical form, with superior strength and endurance. Unfortunately, that outward image is often very deceptive, as many vets suffer from chronic pain, including that of the musculoskeletal system, and greatly benefit from chiropractic for veterans.
Given the sacrifices our service members have made for our country, it is imperative that we thank them not just with words, but with relieving the pain they have endured as a result of their duty.
A look at the numbers
According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as many as 65% of American vets and active service members suffer from chronic pain. This is more than three times the prevalence rate of 20% found in the general American population.1
Musculoskeletal pain accounts for more than half of veterans’ visits to health care providers, most often for pain in the back, neck, shoulders, or knees.2 These types of musculoskeletal and connective tissue injuries were the leading cause for medical leave during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, with only 13% of service members returning to active duty following treatment.2,3
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), opioid abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often comorbid with chronic pain among active duty personnel and vets.4
Weight of the world
Active duty infantry personnel in the field must, quite literally, carry their entire world on their back. The average weight a soldier is expected to carry, while often hiking for as long as nine miles on foot, has increased over the years to anywhere from 100-150 lbs.
This includes body armor, ammunition, food, and water.5 This weight can add up further when traveling in a squad, as some soldiers may be carrying heavy communications equipment, or mortars and rounds. Clearly, carrying this amount of weight for extended periods of time, especially over repeated tours of duty, is a major contributor to high levels of musculoskeletal injuries among active duty and retired service personnel.5
Chiropractic for veterans: current research
A study, published this March in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, compared the protective effects of a number of nonpharmacological therapeutic treatments against adverse outcomes for a group of vets who suffered from chronic pain.6
Such treatments included acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic care, massage, cold laser therapy, and TENS. Those vets who underwent nonpharmacological therapies were found to be at a significantly lower risk than those undergoing standard treatment for substance abuse, opioid overdose, or suicidal thoughts or attempts, while under VA care for chronic pain.6
A 2018 study in JAMA Network Open examined the effect of adding chiropractic care to standard care for pain relief and function for active duty service personnel suffering from lower back pain.7 Standard treatment included pain medication and physical therapy, while chiropractic for veterans included spinal manipulation, rehabilitative exercise, and cold and heat therapies. At the end of the six-week study showed significant improvement in terms of pain intensity, disability, and satisfaction for the chiropractic care group.7
Care options and access
Chiropractic services are part of the standard Medical Benefits Package available to all eligible veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
VA DCs are integrated with primary care, rehabilitation, pain management and other specialty teams to provide diagnosis and care consistent with evidence-based guidelines. Congress authorized VA chiropractic care in 1999, and the VA has provided on-station or community care services since 2004. From 2005-15 the number of on-station chiropractic clinics increased almost 150%, and the number of veterans receiving chiropractic care increased more than 800%. More legislation is currently being considered to further increase chiropractic care demand.
Time and again, our active duty service members and veterans have risked their lives for our country. Providing chiropractic for veteran’s care to relieve their chronic pain can be our way to show our gratitude.
- Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya, C, et al. Prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain among adults – United States, 2016. MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report. 2018;67:1001-1006.
- Cook D, Ellingson L, Stegner A. Exercise alters pain sensitivity in Gulf War veterans with chronic musculoskeletal pain.J Pain. 2010:11(8);764-772.
- S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA Research on Pain Management. Accessed Nov. 28, 2020.
- After the battle: 7 health problems facing veterans. Accessed Nov. 28, 2020.
- Hambling D. The overloaded soldier: Why U.S. infantry now carry more weight than ever. Popular Mechanics, Dec. 26, 2018.
- Meerwijk EL, Larson MJ, Schmidt EM, et al. Nonpharmacological treatment of army service members with chronic pain is associated with fewer adverse outcomes after transition to the Veterans Health Administration. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2020 Mar;35(3):775-783.
- Goertz CM, Long CR, Vining RD, et al. Effect of usual medical care plus chiropractic care vs usual medical care alone on pain and disability among US service members with low back pain: A comparative effectiveness clinical trial. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(1):e180105.