Posted on: Jun 02, 2020
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As any researcher knows, the first question to ask at the beginning of a research program is: why? Why focus on chronic pain among Canada’s Veterans? And why is it important to build a knowledge base with our research?  

Why Study Chronic Pain Among Veterans?

Chronic pain is very common among Veterans: with 41% of Canadian Veterans suffering from chronic pain, the rate among Veterans is double the rate among civilians (Source: Veterans Affairs Canada). Chronic pain also significantly impacts your personal life and career: 54% of Veterans with chronic pain had their pain interfere with their work activities every month. Many of the Veterans with chronic pain that the Centre of Excellence’s team have worked with (especially those who were medically discharged from active military service) have 20 – 30 years of life ahead of them, which gives them the time to start a new career in their civilian life but their potential is hindered by chronic pain.  

It is also important to study pain specifically in Veterans because we have seen that Veterans have disproportionately positive outcomes when they are treated with chronic pain management services that properly address their unique needs. In our May blog post, “Serving Those Who Served,” we describe a few potential reasons for why Veterans tend to have such positive outcomes: Veterans don’t quit when things get hard (as they regularly do in military service and in pain management programs), and they thrive when they have a strong support system that involves other Veterans who have a shared experience and shared language. We spoke with Veteran Derek Speirs (you can hear from him directly in this video) who said that chronic pain creates a vicious cycle of pain, isolation, and hopelessness. When we bring Veterans together to support each other through their individual pain management programs, they are actively engaged in their pain management programs and pull each other out of that vicious cycle of pain in a way no civilian clinician can. They are in the drivers’ seat of their life again, rather than feeling like their chronic pain is stopping them from living.  

Again, we ask why? One answer may be because they have a shared understanding of a common goal to be ready for change: ready to manage their pain, and ready to transition from their old life of military service into their new life in the civilian world. Whatever the reason, gaining a better understanding through research will help direct future care and hopefully prevent chronic pain.  

The Centre of Excellence can identify evidence-based strategies and share them with clinics to put into practice across Canada, and measure the impact upon the health and wellbeing of Veterans.  

Why Is It Important to Build a Knowledge Base?

Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. Without researching chronic pain among Canadian Veterans, we cannot improve the quality of care and access to care that our Veterans deserve.  

By sharing our research with clinics in a feedback loop that applies lessons learned at the clinics to further improve our research and identify better pain management therapies, the work of the Centre of Excellence translates knowledge into care. This means we can also explore techniques that proactively manage pain: for example, are there recommendations we can make to Canadian Armed Force (CAF) members to make them more resilient to the wear-and-tear that often leads to chronic pain among Veterans? Can we treat physical and mental trauma more effectively to preempt chronic pain? How can we build trust between Veterans with pain clinics and VAC to make pain management programs more effective?

Through research and engagement, we can understand the unique challenges that Veterans with chronic pain face and how to address them with evidence-based pain management therapies, and ultimately improve the quality of and access to care. Equipped with our research, the Centre of Excellence works with clinics and also educate primary care practitioners in pain care in order to accelerate the time it takes to put research into practice. The Centre of Excellence can also educate clinicians and VAC staff on what Veterans need to manage their pain.  

The first step is asking why.  

Author Bio: A faculty member of McMaster University since 1988, Dr. Norm Buckley served three terms as Chair of the Department of Anesthesia, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. Having held hospital administrative positions as Operating Room Director, Chief of Anesthesia (Chedoke McMaster) and Deputy Chief (Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation), Dr. Buckley’s particular interests are pain, both acute and chronic. His clinical work is focused on chronic pain management at the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic, McMaster University Medical Centre. In 2010, Dr. Buckley established and is the past director of the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre. He is scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care. In addition to Dr. Buckley is the nominated principal applicant and Scientific Director of the SPOR-funded Chronic Pain Network. With $25 million in funding, the focus of the Network is improved health outcomes for Canadians living with chronic pain.

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