If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.
A male patient visiting medical clinic for low back pain. Lumbar vertebral model on doctor desk.

Take Control of Your Chronic Pain

Have you heard the phrase “no pain, no gain?” That’s not exactly true. As a Service member, this mindset might stop you from getting treatment for pain, but that might hurt more in the long run.

Acute pain versus chronic pain

Pain is your body’s natural response to things like injury or illness – it lets you know that something is wrong.

Acute pain is sudden and usually lasts for a few weeks to months. Chronic pain is pain that lasts more than six weeks, often three to six months or more, and is associated with changes in the central nervous system (think: changes in the brain that can affect sensory, emotional, cognitive and behavioral pathways).

What causes chronic pain?

Chronic pain can be caused by incidents like regularly carrying heavy items the wrong way or traumatic injuries. But it can also come from things like years of bad posture, sleeping on a poor mattress or your body aging. Service members may develop chronic pain from service-related situations such as injuries related to wearing body armor, repeatedly jumping from aircrafts or riding in vibrating vehicles or helicopters.

How do you treat chronic pain?

The DOD has a standard way of providing pain management. The approach, called “Stepped Care,” starts with your regular health care provider who will address your pain directly or help you access other services (like physical therapy) to manage your pain.

Health care providers commonly treat chronic pain with medications. Medications can include ibuprofen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription opioids. In some cases, non-drug pain management options may be an alternative to taking medication.

Learn how to manage chronic pain

If you regularly deal with pain, learn how to manage it by using these resources:

  • Talk to your health care provider. Follow these steps to prepare for and ask questions during your medical appointment so that you get the information you need.
  • Understand prescription opioid misuse. Some pain relief medications like opioids are commonly misused, but knowing the risks can help keep you safe.
  • Try non-drug pain management [PDF 626KB]. Talk to your health care provider to find out what other options (physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture) might be best for your situation. Ask your provider if these specialties are offered within your MTF and if a referral is needed: Visit tricare.mil/mtf for more information.
  • Exercise is a key part of treatment. Talk to your health care provider about the benefits of exercise and any exercise limitations you should be aware of for chronic pain. Check with your local MWR or fitness facility to see if classes, like yoga, are available.

Get ahead of chronic pain

If you’re experiencing pain for more than six weeks, talk to your health care provider sooner rather than later. If chronic pain goes untreated, it’s possible that it may also cause psychological health concerns. It’s important to get help for physical and psychological symptoms as soon as possible.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.