Veterans May Experience More Pain Than Nonveterans

The survey found 65.5% of veterans experienced pain within the past 3 months.

A new study suggests that US military veterans may not only experience more pain compared with nonveterans, but the pain they experience is more severe.

The findings show that young and middle-aged veterans are the most likely to experience the most severe pain, according to a press release from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The National Health Interview Survey, which was conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the NIH, is the first estimate of severe pain in veterans and nonveterans. These results reinforce the need to monitor and manage intervention efforts for veterans.

“Our analysis showed that veterans were about 40 percent more likely to experience severe pain than nonveterans,” said lead author Richard L. Nahin, PhD. “As well, younger veterans were substantially more likely to report suffering from severe pain than nonveterans, even after controlling for underlying demographic characteristics. These findings suggest that more attention should be paid to helping veterans manage the impact of severe pain and related disability on daily activities.”

Included in the survey were 67,696 adults, who answered questions relating to the persistence and intensity of pain 3 months prior to the survey. There were 6647 veterans, and 61,049 nonveterans surveyed from 2010 to 2014, according to the NIH.

Approximately 92.5% of veterans included were male, and 56.5% of nonveterans were female. Specific details about the veterans’ military experience, including branch, years of service, and combat status, were not discussed.

Investigators discovered that 65.5% of veterans experienced pain in the previous 3 months compared with 56.4% of nonveterans. Additionally, of the individuals who reported pain, 9.1% of veterans experienced severe pain, compared with only 6.3% of nonveterans.

Even after the investigators controlled for various factors, 7.8% of younger veterans reported experiencing severe pain, compared with only 3.2% of nonveterans of similar ages, which is more than double.

Veterans were also more likely to experience back pain (32.8%), back pain with or without sciatica (12.2%, 20.5%), or joint pain (43.6%) compared with nonveterans, according to the NIH. However, veterans were less likely to experience jaw pain (3.6%) or migraines (10%).

The investigators discovered that severe pain was higher among veterans with back pain, jaw pain, migraine, and neck pain compared with nonveterans with these conditions.

As age increased in nonveterans, pain and severity also increased, but veterans 50- to 59-years-old were more likely to experience severe pain, while the youngest and oldest individuals were the least likely to experience severe pain.

Veterans 18- to 39-years-old and 50- to 59-years-old were more likely to have pain compared with nonveterans of the same ages, and the younger group of veterans were more likely to experience severe pain compared with nonveterans the same age, according to the NIH.

There was no significant difference in reports of severe pain among female veterans and nonveterans, but male veterans were more likely to experience severe pain compared with their nonveteran counterparts.

“These findings show that we still have much more to do to help our veterans who are suffering from pain,” said Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director of NCCIH. “This new knowledge can help inform effective health care strategies for veterans of all ages. More research is needed to generate additional evidence-based options for veterans managing pain. Over time this research may help nonveterans as well.”