It's believed that the cumulative exposure to those sudden surges in pressure may damage central nervous system tissues, leading to headaches and thinking difficulties, among other symptoms, Clark said.
Often, pain conditions are worsened by other post-deployment problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Both make treatment more difficult, Clark said.
"These conditions are interacting and creating more challenges for the folks that are returning," Clark said. "They are complicated problems that can involve cognitive issues, emotional impacts, and acute and chronic pain. For some, it may resolve in a few months. But for others, it may never resolve and will be there for the rest of their lives."
With 90 percent of those who are injured in battle surviving -- compared to 40 percent during the Vietnam War -- vets are coming home with complex conditions that require extensive need for rehabilitation and pain management. "People with these levels of injuries were not surviving before," Clark said.
About half of returning vets register for care with the VA, Clark said. The study included 239 vets being seen at two VA hospitals in Minneapolis.
It's not just combat injuries that are leaving vets plagued by pain. The everyday rigors of the job -- heavy lifting, marching while carrying 80-pound backpacks or jumping out of trucks or planes -- can lead to or exacerbate back injuries, joint pain from conditions such as arthritis and muscular skeletal pain, Clark said.
About 25 percent of vets had some form of pain even before deployment, a higher percentage than during previous conflicts because many of today's troops are Reservists and National Guard soldiers who tend to be older, Clark said.
When pain is treated early and aggressively, patients have the best chance of getting better, he added. Though many fear addiction from opioids, the
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