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Young Vets Experience the Most Severe Pain

December 15, 2016
The results of the first national pain survey comparing veteran and nonveteran populations provides further evidence that more needs to be done to help veterans manage their pain.

American veterans—especially young and middle-age veterans—suffer significantly more pain that nonveterans, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health.1  Severe back pain, jaw pain, headaches, and migraines were the primary  culprits for the pain.

This is the first national estimate comparing the incidence of severe pain among veterans and civilian with painful health conditions. “These findings suggest that more attention should be paid to helping veterans manage the impact of severe pain and related disability on daily activities,” said Richard L. Nahin, PhD, lead author of the survey, in a press release.

The analysis is based on data collected between 2010-2014. A total of 67,696 adults (6,647 veterans and 61,049 civilians) answered questions about the intensity and persistence of their pain during the 3 months preceding the survey. More than 90% of the respondents who were veterans were male; 56.5% of the nonveterans were female. The data did not specify the type of military service performed, the length of service, which branch of the armed forces the service was performed in, or whether the veteran was involved in combat.  

Veterans and painVeterans in the first national pain survey reported more severe pain than nonveterans.

Other findings:

  • Nearly 10% (9.1%) of veterans reported having severe pain compared to 6.3% of civilians
  • More veterans (65.5%) than nonveterans (56.4%) recorded pain in the previous three months
  • Younger veterans (7.8%) were more likely to say they suffered from severe pain than nonveterans (3.2%) of similar age.
  • Veterans were 32.8% more likely to experience back pain than nonveterans; 43.6% more likely to have joint pain but less likely to have jaw pain (3.6%) or migraines (10.0%).
  • With regards to back pain, the prevalence of severe pain was significantly higher in the veteran population (21.6%). Severe jaw pain impacted 37.5% of vets. Severe headaches or migraines affected 26.4% of vets and 27.7% claimed to have severe neck pain compared with nonvets with these conditions. 
  • For nonveterans, the prevalence of pain (and severe pain) increased with age. For veterans, those ages 50-59, were most likely to have severe pain but the youngest and oldest groups were less likely to have severe pain.
  • Veterans aged 18-39 were more likely to have severe pain than nonvets in the same age group. But veterans aged 70 or older were less likely to have severe pain than similarly aged nonveterans.
  • There was no difference seen between the female vet and nonvet groups with regard to the reporting of severe pain.

“This new knowledge can help inform effective health care strategies for veterans of all ages,” said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of NCCIH in a press release. “More research is needed to generate additional evidence-based options for veterans managing pain. Over time this research may help nonveterans as well.”

Going forward, 13 grants have been awarded to NCCIH who will research military and veteran health with a focus on nonpharmacological approaches to pain and related conditions in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense.

Last updated on: December 20, 2016
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