In the Spotlight

Pain Management

Contributed by Anthony J. Mariano, PhD, Clinical Psychologist

Senior Couple riding bicycles

Pain is the most often reported reason for seeking medical care. Acute pain is a major symptom of many injuries or conditions. Chronic pain can have a serious effect on your quality of life long after your body has healed. Some think of "acute" pain as severe pain. This is wrong. Chronic pain also can be very severe.

  • Medical experts define acute pain as pain from the first injury to the time the body heals. This usually occurs within three months.
  • Chronic pain is any pain that remains after the body has healed. Chronic pain is no longer an "emergency signal."

Pain is not just a physical sensation. Your experience of pain can control how you respond when you hurt. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors make a difference. For example, negative thoughts and emotions "turn up the volume" of pain. Pain certainly can cause depression. Your mood also will influence your pain.

A major problem is normal reactions and treatments that help acute pain can make chronic pain worse. Rest, medications, time away from responsibilities, and avoiding physical effort all provide pain relief. Limiting activities prevents further physical damage.

Man thinking intently

The treatments for chronic pain are very different. A return to a full and useful life is the long-term goal, not short-term pain relief. Healing has already occurred. Limiting activities causes further damage.

Pain is a particularly important problem among Veterans:

  • As many as 50% of male and 75% of female Veterans report chronic pain
  • Pain is among the most frequent health problems of returning OEF/OIF Veterans, particularly in those with polytrauma

Many people live well with chronic pain. Others are overwhelmed. They can barely get through the day. Too often some people are caught in a struggle trying to prove they have "real" pain. We want to help.

There are many treatments for pain. Many are helpful. However, some are risky and have no scientific proof. These may be widely used anyway. It is very important for you and your family to understand what your provider can do for you. If you have chronic pain, it is even more important that you take an active role in your health. Learn what you can do to help yourself improve your quality of life.

Plans are underway to develop a Pain Learning Center where reliable information about chronic pain and its treatment will be available. Our goal is to help you be better prepared to take part in health care decisions and be active in your chronic pain treatment.

The VA is committed to providing high quality, effective pain treatment based on science. Patient and family education is at the core of VA pain management.

Learn More

What is Back Pain (NIAMS)