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NCCIH Research Blog

NCCIH Working Group Recommends Collaborative Pain Research in Military

February 11, 2015


Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director Emeritus

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

A working group of our Center’s Advisory Council issued a report last week recommending large-scale research studies on nondrug approaches for pain management. The report received the enthusiastic approval of the entire Council. The report proposes expanded collaboration between NCCIH and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to test approaches to pain management that integrate complementary treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and meditation with conventional models of care.

Research on nondrug approaches for pain in military and veteran populations has been of particular interest to our Center. Just a few months ago we announced the funding of 13 grants exploring nondrug approaches to pain and related conditions in U.S. military service members and veterans. According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 100 million Americans are affected by chronic pain, which often defies the best efforts to control it. While opioids are an important tool in the management of pain, these medications come with side effects and risks of misuse and abuse. This issue is of special concern for military service members and veterans. Many of the military personnel returning from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from chronic pain and adverse outcomes from use of opioids. Self-management and nondrug approaches are urgently needed to complement conventional medical approaches to pain management. These approaches may reduce the need for opioids.

Among the recommendations from the working group are that new studies should focus on evaluating an integrative model of care, building on the ongoing studies that focus on individual complementary health approaches. The working group recommends that we study the effect of these treatments on the quality of life and functioning of patients as well as impact on medication use.

We welcome the working group’s report. It provides valuable guidance on how NCCIH can partner effectively with the DoD and VA on this important public health problem. The proposed research would focus on military personnel and veterans, but I fully expect the insights may benefit all Americans living with chronic pain.


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