Pain is one of the most frequently reported symptoms by service members returning from military deployment seeking medical assistance. As a caregiver, understanding and managing the physical and psychological pain of your wounded warrior can play an important role in his or her rehabilitation and reintegration process.
Chronic pain has the potential to significantly affect your loved one during the recovery phase. According to the American Chronic Pain Association, chronic pain is pain that continues beyond an expected healing period of an injury. The pain can linger even if your warrior is no longer ill or injured and in some cases, exist even if an injury is absent.
Chronic pain can come from just normal wear and tear on the body or from aging. During military operations, however, chronic pain may come from combat-related injuries or day-to-day military activities. Many service members that sustain less traumatic wounds return home with back problems, joint immobility, or other ailments. There can be consequences if your service member does not seek immediate attention for his or her chronic pain.
Potential dangers of untreated chronic pain
- Substance abuse
- Physical deconditioned or loss of physical fitness
- Sleep disturbance
- Reduced sexual activity
- Impaired ability to work
- Lower self-esteem
Everyone is different and perceives pain in different ways. Those who suffer from chronic pain are less likely to function in simple day-to-day activities such as walking, sitting, standing, lifting or even touching objects.
Be aware of signs that indicate your loved one may be in pain:
- Facial expression, such as grimacing
- Heavy breathing
- Unusual body movements (such as limping)
- Behavioral changes (such as not wanting to eat or sleep)
- Emotional (such as irritable or crying)
While coping with chronic pain may seem overwhelming at times, military personnel can learn ways to manage their chronic pain and restore their lives to a more productive and meaningful life.
- Develop a comprehensive treatment plan with your doctor or nurse care manager.
- Speak up to your healthcare provider; describe your pain and any activities that lessen or increase their pain.
- Participate in the treatment process early on.
- Set realistic goals with your healthcare provider concerning treatment plans.
- Write down any questions or concerns you may have before each appointment.
- Know your limitations when it comes to overexertion.
- Keep up with regular sleep schedules.
- Eat healthy.
- Exercise regularly.
- Realize that there will be good and bad days.
- Talk to your doctor or nurse care manager about support groups for warriors in similar chronic pain situations.
- Track your pain episodes. Write down how long the pain lasts, the severity of the pain and activities that may have brought about pain.
- Learn to relax. Relaxation exercises are one way of reclaiming control over the body.
- Find ways to distract from the pain (such as listening to music, reading, etc.).
Caring for the Caregiver
Caring for a service member with chronic pain can be hard, as is caring for anyone injured in combat. It is important that you, as the caregiver, learn to help your wounded warrior and yourself.
- Communicate between the two of you. Talk about issues and concerns as they arise.
- Take care of your health.
- Learn about specific problems your service member may be experiencing (such as sleeping disorder, depression, intimacy, etc.).
- Be patient. Understand when to help and when to encourage self-help.
- Believe in your loved one’s report of pain (validation).
- Attend medical visits with your wounded warrior.
- Take responsibility for all medications.
- Talk to your service member’s doctor or nurse case manager if his or her pain begins to disrupt their sleep.
- Join a support group for caregivers in similar wounded warrior situations.
- Report any major change you observe in your loved one’s symptoms, mood, abilities, or daily activities.
Your caregiving journey can be physically and mentally challenging, especially if you are caring for a wounded warrior who is suffering from chronic pain.
Learning as much as you can about this condition will help you better serve your loved one during this difficult time. And remember…never give up! Staying positive will keep your loved one optimistic and help him or her stay motivated during the rehabilitation process.
For more information on how to successfully manage your service member’s chronic pain go to the Real Warriors. Also, check out Caregiver Cornerstones, a resource for family caregivers caring for those who are suffering from pain.