Reduce Your Risk for Chronic Pain (and Risky Drug Use)
With the physical demands of military training and jobs (like carrying heavy gear, loading equipment, sitting with bad posture, spending time in confined spaces or getting injured), Service members can experience pain. By incorporating healthy habits early in your career, you can help reduce your risk of chronic pain later in life. As a bonus, taking care of your body now (physically and emotionally) can help lower your risk for prescription drug misuse and illicit and prohibited drug use in the future.
Add the following practices into your routine to help protect against chronic pain (even if you’re already experiencing it!):
- Breathe it out. Practicing stress relief tactics regularly can help you calm your mind and body in tough moments. Try things like meditating, yoga and deep breathing apps (such as Breathe2Relax or Tactical Breather) to help with pain and stress. These techniques are helpful to reduce pain in the moment. If pain continues, talk to your health care provider.
- Stretch! Strength training and cardiovascular exercises may be your go-to, but don’t sleep on flexibility movements. Stretching can enhance your range of motion, prevent injuries and reduce pain and stiffness (we’re looking at you, lower back pain).
- Get help for acute pain. Know what acute pain looks like and how to address it so your short-term pain doesn’t turn into long-term pain and affect your future. If you have pain for more than a week, talk to your health care provider before it gets worse.
- Tend to your psychological health. Dealing with chronic pain can be hard on your emotional wellness too. In some cases, it can cause feelings of depression, anxiety or hopelessness. Caring for your psychological health can help you better manage your emotions during good and bad moments. In turn, you can cope more effectively and reduce the intensity of your pain.
Don’t stop there! Reduce your chances of misusing prescription drugs or leaning on prohibited substances to cope with pain by doing the following:
- Recognize the early signs of prescription drug misuse. Managing pain after an injury is normal, but how you manage that pain can be a slippery slope. Know the warning signs of misuse (like taking more of the medication than you are supposed to or taking it more frequently than prescribed) and talk to your health care provider about a treatment plan if you’re experiencing pain. If you’re tempted to misuse medications due to chronic pain, go back to your health care provider to discuss other options or talk with your chaplain.
- Steer clear of cannabis products (even if your pain continues). As a Service member, you know that you are prohibited from using products that may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) like marijuana, CBD and hemp. If you’re in pain, protect yourself from unwanted risks by talking to your health care provider about non-drug pain management options [PDF 416KB] (like acupuncture, massage therapy and physical therapy). These are safe options for both your health and career.
Ask yourself “what can I do today to help protect myself in the future?” The answer may be making small, positive strides now by building these healthy habits into your routine to reduce the risk of chronic pain and risky drug use down the road.