WASHINGTON — Pain is recognized as a significant health issue among the approximately 2.6 million servicemembers who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The VA has reported that musculoskeletal pain is the most frequent diagnosis, outstripping any other medical and psychological concern.
Chronic pain also is found in most combat veterans who sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Now, a small new study published in Military Behavioral Health suggests meditation can help veterans control their pain. The research, led by Thomas Nassif, PhD, of the DC VAMC and American University’s Department of Health Studies, found that veterans who practiced meditation reported a 20% reduction in pain intensity, as well as pain interference with sleep, mood and activity level.1
“Meditation allows a person to accept pain and to respond to pain with less stress and emotional reactivity. Our theory is that this process increases coping skills, which in turn can help veterans to self-manage their chronic pain,” Nassif said.
Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra, or iRest, a form of mindfulness meditation used in the study, is employed at VAMCs and active-duty military facilities nationwide. The Army surgeon general’s Pain Management Task Force cited iRest as a Tier I intervention for managing pain in military and veteran populations.
The pilot study involved four male veterans, who received iRest meditation treatment, and five who did not. All study participants served in combat and returned to the U.S. with chronic pain and moderate traumatic brain injury (mTBI). By the end of eight weeks, study participants who attended meditation sessions twice weekly at the DC VAMC and were given iRest recordings to engage in self-practice, had acquired useful mindfulness skills to help manage their pain, Nassif said.
“In many cases, primary care physicians are the ones expected to help individuals overcome their chronic pain,” Nassif said. “One of the most commonly used tools we have in our toolbox is opioids. Veterans in this study, and many who come to meditation sessions, find that opioid medication is a short-term solution. Meditation could be a useful tool to help veterans manage their pain over the long term.”
1 Nassif TH, Chapman JC, Sandbrink F, Norris DO, et al. Mindfulness meditation and chronic pain management in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with traumatic brain injury: A pilot study. Military Behavioral Health. 2015: pages 82-89. DOI:10.1080/21635781.2015.1119772