Chronic pain is a common side effect of military service. Whether you have a bad back, aching joints, or a knee that can predict the weather, the extreme physical demands of military life can age your body far beyond its years. Some veterans have extensive combat injuries, while others deal with painful joints from too many nights sleeping on the ground. Maybe you have become used to pain as part of your daily routine. “It’s no big deal,” you say, or you shrug it off as another side effect of the Big Green Weenie.

But what can you do when the pain becomes too much of a pain in the… well, everywhere?

Just because chronic pain is widespread among veterans doesn’t mean you have to accept it. When we refer to chronic pain, we mean pain lasting more than 12 weeks. More than half of veterans report suffering from some form of chronic pain. If it isn’t treated, chronic pain can really mess with you. It can cause poor sleep, depression, disability, anxiety, lack of productivity, and a generally decreased quality of life. If pain is starting to interfere with your daily life, then you don’t have to keep suffering. Read on to discover the different options that are available.

Fight your chronic pain like a natural

If your doctor prescribes you essential oils to deal with your pain, you can laugh all you want, but it’s probably worth a try. Think what it took for the doctor to say something besides, “Take some Motrin and change your socks!” There are a lot of natural treatments that can make a big difference. These can be exercises like yoga or Pilates, heat treatments from a heating pad, or even herbal treatments. Fish oil and turmeric both have anti-inflammatory properties, so you may be able to find relief through vitamins rather than through prescription painkillers. And there are many studies showing that meditation or mental relaxation can help decrease depression and anxiety associated with pain.

Many veterans begin with natural treatment methods because they 1) have no side effects, 2) can be started quickly, and 3) don’t require a referral or doctor supervision. Most are affordable and readily available, so with a minimal amount of research, you can make small adjustments in your daily routine and find relief from some of your symptoms.

Of course, we understand that there are many kinds of pain that heat packs and lavender oils just can’t fix. The effectiveness of natural treatments depends on your specific injuries and the type of pain that is bothering you. What works well for one person won’t always work for another. So it’s always worthwhile to give various methods a try, but if something isn’t working for you, then it’s time to explore other options.

The next level of chronic pain treatment

OK, so what if you’re at the point where all the yoga and vitamins in the world aren’t enough to manage your pain symptoms? You need to see the doc before things get worse. The first thing they will recommend is probably physical therapy. This form of PT means regular appointments with a physical therapist and also targeted exercises on your own at home. Yeah, sometimes the exercises hurt. It’s not fun. But over time, the awkward stretches and painful exercises can make a big difference. If you want to regain your mobility and strength and reduce your pain symptoms, stick with the PT schedule.

When you need something to take the edge off your pain, doctors can prescribe pain medication. Of course, in the short term, medicine can make pain symptoms more manageable and allow you to continue with your daily responsibilities. However, when used long term there are many risks of pain medication, including addiction, increasing your sensitivity to pain, and physical side effects. So always be careful to follow the doctor’s advice when taking prescription medicine. Don’t use more than is recommended or take it for longer than advised.

In extreme situations, surgery may help to improve some chronic pain issues. Surgery is reserved for cases of debilitating or disabling pain. It is important to discuss all possibilities with your doctor so you know the best ways for dealing with your chronic pain symptoms.

What you can do next

The good news is this: you can use your pain to help others, and there may be a gift in it for you! If you have been dealing with pain for more than three months, then NDRI-USA (National Development and Research Intitutes-USA), a non-profit research institution that focuses on the health of veterans and active military through their Center for Military and Veterans Health Research, along with CUNY (City University of New York) wants to hear from you. They developed a survey about chronic pain, and they are encouraging veterans to share their experiences. Let your struggles light the way to medical advancements that can help many others. Completing the survey will make you eligible to win a gift card! Click here to fill out the NDRI-USA survey.