Army explores alternative pain treatment methods

The Army Pain Management Task Force is trying to change its approach to pain management.

The group is attempting to move away from merely dispensing medication, and towards utilizing more alternative and holistic approaches, the Army Times reports.

Some of the alternative treatments the Army is considering are yoga, massage therapy and acupuncture, the news source reports. Colonel Trip Buckenmaier, M.D., director of Army Medical Command’s Defense and Veterans Center for Integrated Pain Management, spoke to Army Times about how modern military conflicts require a change in the way the Army views pain management.

“Opioids, particularly morphine, have been the answer for pain for many decades and it worked OK, but in the current conflict, things changed,” Buckenmaier told the news provider. “We have a 90 percent survival rate now. We have more people surviving from horrible wounds than ever before, and we’re beginning to see that this tool we were relying on is beginning to fail us.”

Army Times reports that the incidence of soldiers abusing or becoming addicted to pain medications has been on the rise, and holistic treatments may help curb this problem.

The Army is implementing new tools to personalize the way they treat their soldiers. One of these tools is PASTOR, a data system that allows patients to go online and fill out a survey on areas such as lifestyle and health history that will then be given to a physician before a patient's appointment. This way, the doctor will have a better understanding of a soldier's needs before treating him or her.

An official report released by the Army Pain Management Task Force in May of 2010 states that many of the Military Health System’s (MHS) challenges with pain management are very similar to those faced in other medical disciplines. However, the MHS also faces some unique issues because of its distinctive mission, structure and patient population.

The concept of "toughing it out" is prominent in the Army, and, according to the official report, this can lead to unique issues in pain management. This may also prevent soldiers from embracing holistic remedies.

“'No pain, no gain' is a philosophy embraced by much of the active duty force and their leadership," states the report. "This attitude often causes delays in seeking treatment, as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines attempt to work through their pain."