Chronic pain is very prevalent in our culture today. Though the definition of “chronic pain” is quite simple (typically pain lasting greater than three months), it’s a multifaceted problem that involves more than just the area of perceived pain. I experience chronic pain on two fronts: professionally as a physical therapist treating patients and personally as an individual having to deal with my own pain. This introductory article is the first of a series of planned pieces diving more into this complex topic.
Being a physical therapist in the Army has been an awesome experience, and I would not trade it in for anything. However, I feel somewhat deceived for the type of care I have had to deliver has not matched my initial expectations of treating acute or sub-acute battlefield or sports-related injuries. During PT school, I envisioned a sports medicine and training room environment getting military personnel back into the “game” as soon as possible. Yes, I have experienced some of that while serving as the PT for a combat brigade, but a majority of my career has been spent helping patients manage their chronic pain with normal daily activities.
My family recently relocated to Fort Jackson, SC. I am starting to believe this is a hub for chronic pain patients for three primary reasons: 1) it’s a desirable location for military retirees to live, 2) it’s a desirable place to end a military career, and 3) it’s a training post where combat Soldiers come for 2-3 years to be drill sergeants in between combat unit assignments. In a regular week, I may evaluate 20 new patients, and I would bet, on average, 16 of those would be classified as chronic pain patients. Needless to say, I am gaining more experience managing this population.
Personally, I have my own chronic pain ailments I work through each day. Due to poor training plans and movement patterns in my twenties, my 33-year old body has a few internal wrinkles. From my marathon running days, my left knee has some multi-compartmental arthritic changes that worsened with poor movement patterns and programming when I started CrossFit. More recently, I injured my low back while deadlifting a light load. That was 18 months ago, and the pain management continues.
This article serves as a “teaser” for the series to come where we use our professional and personal experience to dive deeper into the topic of chronic pain. I know our experiences are not unique but will hopefully help other practitioners and patients. Selfishly, writing about it requires me to look further into the science and management of chronic pain, improving my personal skillset and better treating myself.
1 Peter 5:9-10
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.