Veterans are 40% more likely than nonveterans to experience severe pain, according to the 2010-2014 National Health Interview Survey. Epidemiologists from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health analyzed data on 6,647 veterans and 61,049 nonveterans who were asked about the persistence and intensity of self-reported pain during the previous 3 months.
Veterans were more likely to report having pain (65.5% vs 56.4%) and more likely to describe severe pain—that is, pain that occurred “most days” or “every day” and bothered the respondent “a lot” (9.1% vs 6.3%). Younger veterans in particular were more than 2 times as likely to report severe pain (7.8% vs 3.2%), even when researchers controlled for underlying demographic characteristics. Veterans aged 18 to 39 years and 50 to 59 years were more likely than nonveterans of the same ages to have any pain, but veterans aged ≥ 70 years were less likely to have severe pain than were similarly aged nonveterans.
Back pain and joint pain topped the list for veterans compared with jaw pain and migraines for nonveterans.
The majority of veteran participants were men (92.5%), whereas the majority of nonveteran participants were women (56.5%). The survey data did not identify any specific aspects of military service, including branch of the armed forces, years of service, or whether the veteran served in a combat role.
The survey also didn’t collect information on pain treatment, so it isn’t clear whether differences in treatment would explain the differences in pain experiences. Nor did the survey reveal whether younger veterans with severe pain were in pain despite treatment or because they weren’t getting any treatment.
“These findings suggest that more attention should be paid to helping veterans manage the impact of severe pain and related disability on daily activities,” the lead researcher said.