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Papers of the Week

Papers: 25 Apr 2020 - 1 May 2020


Human Studies

2020 Apr 27

Scand J Pain

Military veterans with and without post-traumatic stress disorder: results from a chronic pain management programme.


Van Der Merwe J, Brook S, Fear C, Benjamin MJ, Libby G, de Williams ACC, Baranowski AP
Scand J Pain. 2020 Apr 27.
PMID: 32338637.


Background and aims There is very little published evaluation of the treatment of military veterans with chronic pain, with or without post-traumatic stress disorder. Few clinical services offer integrated treatment for veterans with chronic pain and PTSD. Such veterans experience difficulty in accessing treatment for either condition: services may consider each condition as a contraindication to treatment of the other. Veterans are therefore often passed from one specialist service to another without adequate treatment. The veteran pain management programme (PMP) in the UK was established to meet the needs of veterans suffering from chronic pain with or without PTSD; this is the first evaluation. Methods The PMP was advertised online via veteran charities. Veterans self-referred with accompanying information from General Practitioners. Veterans were then invited for an inter-disciplinary assessment and if appropriate invited onto the next PMP. Exclusion criteria included; current severe PTSD, severe depression with active suicidal ideation, moderate to severe personality disorder, or who were unable to self-care in the accommodation available. Treatment was by a team of experienced pain management clinicians: clinical psychologist, physiotherapist, nurse, medical consultant and psychiatrist. The PMP was delivered over 10 days: five residential days then five single days over the subsequent 6 months. The PMP combines cognitive behavioural treatment, which has the strongest evidence base, with more recent developments from mindfulness-based CBT for pain and compassion-focused therapy. Standard pain management strategies were adapted to meet the specific needs of the population, recognising the tendency to use demanding activity to manage post-traumatic stress symptoms. Domains of outcome were pain, mood, function, confidence and changes in medication use. Results One hundred and sixty four military veterans started treatment in 19 programmes, and 158 completed. Results from those with high and low PTSD were compared; overall improvements in all domains were statistically significant: mood, self-efficacy and confidence, and those with PTSD showed a reduction (4.3/24 points on the IES-6). At the end of the programme the data showed that 17% reduced opioid medication and 25% stopped all opioid use. Conclusions Veterans made clinically and statistically significant improvements, including those with co-existing PTSD, who also reduced their symptom level. This serves to demonstrate the feasibility of treating veterans with both chronic pain and PTSD using a PMP model of care. Implications Military veterans experiencing both chronic pain and PTSD can be treated in a PMP adapted for their specific needs by an experienced clinical team.