FRIDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- At first, Darisse Smith tried to shake off the throbbing in her back and leg. An Army captain, helicopter pilot and triathlete, she was used to pushing herself physically and mentally.
But as her Iraq deployment continued, the pain grew more intense, until it felt like she was being stabbed. She could hardly sit, stand or walk, let alone fly, and was eventually medically discharged.
The next two years were a blur of pain medications and surgeries. "It was a rough time," Smith said. "At home I would not want to talk to anybody. My husband saw me withering away."
Finally, with the help of doctors at Southeast Pain Care in Charlotte, N.C., and an implanted spinal cord stimulator, Smith improved substantially. She has also become a pain advocate for the American Pain Foundation, helping to raise awareness about the complex conditions facing veterans and encouraging them to seek help if they're experiencing pain.
"There's an attitude in the military that you have to 'tough it out,' but that's not true," Smith said. "No one should have to live in pain."
Many vets, however, seem to be doing just that. About nine in 10 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who registered for care with the Department of Veterans Affairs are experiencing pain, and more than half have significant pain, according to a study presented in May at the American Pain Society's annual meeting. Significant pain is a 4 or greater on a scale of 1 to 10.
Sources of pain include combat injuries, including burns and post-amputation, said lead study author Michael Clark, clinical director of the VA's Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program in Tampa.
Exposure to multiple, powerful blasts can also leave vets with pain, Clark said. Even if they're not hit by shrapnel or debris, blasts create powerful pressure waves that can be strong enough to throw those in prox
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