High-Tech and Alternative Medical Treatments Offering Improved Pain Relief for Servicemembers


By James Lint
Senior Editor for InCyberDefense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

Military servicemembers and others suffering from chronic pain are finding relief in some new medical treatments.

Traditionally, when service members were injured in sports activities or military maneuvers, they would take ibuprofen, known as “Ranger Candy.” But even if they were hospitalized, they still had inflammation, aches and pain after being released.

Military Servicemembers Often Need More Frequent Medical Treatments: A sad secret that many military careerists learn the hard way is that arthritis comes early for veterans. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis, commonly known as “wear and tear arthritis,” is the most common form of arthritis.

WebMD says arthritis “is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It commonly occurs in the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees, and spine.”

Members of the military often develop osteoarthritis because they put stress on their weight-bearing joints from carrying heavy backpacks, ammunition and other gear. These “ruck marching” activities stress joints from the shoulders to the feet. So, it’s no surprise that after years of 12- and 20-mile ruck marches, many soldiers develop osteoarthritis.

Opioid Epidemic Also Causing Problems for Veterans: Traditional pain relievers such as aspirin, Naprosyn, Celebrex and ibuprofen can cause stomach pain and bleeding. But an even more serious problem is caused by the opioid epidemic.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that every day, more than 115 Americans die from an overdose of opioids. “The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare,” the NIDA said.

In an October 2017 Newsweek article, writer Art Levine charged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis. “The number of patients affected by the VA’s swinging opiate pendulum is staggering: 60 percent of veterans who fought in the Middle East and 50 percent of older veterans have chronic pain.”

However, Levin went on to say, “Since 2012, though, there has been a 56 percent drop to a mere 53,000 chronic pain VA patients receiving opioids—leading to swift, mandated cutoffs regardless of patient well-being and with virtually no evidence that it’s a safe approach.”

Acupuncture Being Adapted by VA for Pain Relief: Recently, however, the VA has been exploring new ways to treat pain including a 5,000-year-old solution – acupuncture. Military medical care facilities and the VA are using acupuncture as a way to alleviate opioid addiction problems. For example, Nellis Air Force Base Hospital in Nevada has 22 doctors trained in acupuncture.

New High-Tech Medical Treatments: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is another non-drug solution to fight chronic pain. It is a small, battery-powered device with two to four electrodes that send an electric current to the painful area.

According to WebMD, “There is little research to support how — or even if — TENS really works. Its use dates back to the 1960s with the introduction of the gate control theory of pain. According to the theory, stimulating nerves closes a ‘gate’ mechanism in the spinal cord, and that can help eliminate the sensation of pain.”

Another new device for relieving pain is called the Oska Pulse, which was FDA-approved in 2016. According to the manufacturer, the Oska Pulse is a wearable pain-relief solution that aims to reduce muscle stiffness, relieve pain and increase mobility through proprietary “eTec pulse” technology. Oska is working with Southeast Bruce W. Carter Veterans Administration Medical Center in Miami, Florida, to determine the scope and next steps for Oska assessment at the VA in Miami and in San Diego.

Today’s Medical Treatments Will Keep Evolving: Let’s hope we continue to see more progress made in pain management without the side effects of drugs. Perhaps then our future veterans will be less likely to suffer debilitating pain.