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What is chronic pain?

Do you have an injury that doesn’t seem to get better? Are you often irritable because of constant physical discomfort? Is it difficult to stand, walk, sit, or do everyday tasks? These can all be signs of chronic pain.

When a person experiences pain in one or more areas of the body, such as the neck, head, arm, or leg, for at least three to six months, it is considered chronic pain. The pain may be nagging or severe and often seems worse than short-term pain because of its prolonged duration. General wear and tear from aging, as well as different types of illnesses and injuries, can cause chronic pain.

Some Veterans have chronic pain from lasting effects of injuries that occurred in the military, such as a "phantom limb" after an amputation or back or spinal cord damage after an accident. Many times, injuries suffered in military training or during deployment may seem to have healed, but as you age, they can re-emerge and become a source of chronic pain. Often it is hard to figure out the source of long-term pain.

“In combat, I had no other option than to ‘suck up’ the pain and ‘drive on.’ But now that I’m back, it’s a relief to know there are ways for me to cope with it.”

Many people experience chronic pain at some point in their lives. Chronic pain can hinder or even prevent common, day-to-day activities like sitting, standing, and waiting in line. Many people who deal with chronic pain find the constant experience of pain and the restrictions it places on their daily activities makes them feel down or irritable. Some people become depressed or hopeless if they think the pain will never end or there is nothing they can do about it.

When it comes to chronic pain, you don’t have to just live with it. Depending on what’s causing the pain, there are various options for chronic pain treatment, such as:

  • Physical therapy to increase your level of pain-free activity
  • Therapy or counseling to change the way you relate to or cope with your pain
  • Relaxation and mindfulness techniques to manage the stress of chronic pain
  • In some cases, advanced medications or other treatments to reduce the level of severe pain

If I’m experiencing chronic pain, what can I do about it right away?

If you are experiencing chronic pain, there are a few things you can do to deal with your symptoms and improve your well-being:

  • Tell your doctor about it. He or she can help develop a treatment plan for you.
  • Educate yourself on your condition so you can decide on the best options for managing your pain.
  • Keep a “pain diary,” where you can record your progress with pain and how it affects your life.
  • Find ways to stay physically active, according to the recommendations of your doctor.

Your friends and family members have likely noticed that your chronic pain is affecting your life. Talking to them can be especially helpful as you look for the type of chronic pain treatment that is right for you.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with effective treatments for chronic pain management and resources. If chronic pain is affecting your well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage chronic pain even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist, who can provide you with effective ways to cope with your pain
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans and has clinicians and programs dedicated to pain management and treatment.
  • A spiritual or religious adviser

Explore these resources for more information about chronic pain in Veterans.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to chronic pain, such as depression, posttraumatic stress, and alcohol or drug problems.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Chronic pain may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.