2016 Issues   /   Pain Management

Pain Levels Improve in Most VA-Treated Veterans As They Age

By U.S. Medicine

Researchers Identify Factors That Make Amelioration Less Likely

By Brenda L. Mooney

Alaine Duncan has been administering acupuncture treatments to veterans in pain since 2006. Here, she treats a patient at the Washington, DC, VAMC. SHFWire photo by Charles Scudder

Alaine Duncan has been administering acupuncture treatments to veterans in pain since 2006. Here, she treats a patient at the Washington, DC, VAMC. SHFWire photo by Charles Scudder

PORTLAND, OR—Time is said to heal all wounds, and that might also be the case with older military veterans suffering from pain.

A report in The Journal of Pain notes that aging veterans frequently show improvements in pain intensity over time.1

Their likelihood of improvement is lowered, however, with use of opioids, certain mental health conditions and specific pain diagnoses, according to researchers from the VA’s Center to Improve Veterans Involvement in Care and Oregon Health & Science University. Overall, older adults have the highest prevalence of long-term use of pain medications, including opioids, study authors add.

The article points out that, while the older veteran population is at especially high risk for persistent pain, relatively little is known about factors linked with favorable and unfavorable outcomes over time.

To remedy that, the researchers sought to identify clinical and demographic factors associated with changes in pain scores over time in a national cohort of veterans 65 and older with chronic pain. Their original hypothesis was that older age and comorbid mental health disorders would be associated with less improvement in pain conditions over time.

Used in the study was a database of about 13,000 VA-treated veterans who had elevated numeric rating pain scores and had not been prescribed opioids. Researchers measured the percentage decrease over a year in average pain intensity scores, as well as the time to sustained improvement.


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