George Orwell once wrote, “In the face of pain, there are no heroes.”
When I reflect on this quote, U.S. military veterans, and the many issues they face when returning to civilian life, instantly come to mind.
PTSD, lost limbs, musculoskeletal issues, brain trauma—these are just a few of the rampant issues plaguing veterans today. The most heartbreaking of these is the opioid epidemic.
Extreme pain can break even the bravest and most heroic among us. Veterans struggling with chronic pain, trauma and depression are no exception. To cope with the suffering they experience, they often turn to powerful and addictive opioids, with deadly results.
Managing Chronic Pain with Opioids is Killing Our Veterans
The biggest problem with opioids is not just how powerful they are; it’s how addictive they become over time. As your body gets used to taking opioids, it requires higher and higher doses of them in order to be effective. As this tolerance increases, the risk of addiction and overdose increases as well.
From 2010 to 2016, overdose deaths from opioids increased a staggering 65% among veterans. If that weren’t horrible enough, the death rates from heroin have quintupled, while the death rates from synthetic opioids like fentanyl have risen five-fold.
This is a crisis. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has gone to great lengths to combat this epidemic; specifically by prescribing alternative pain management treatments like yoga, chiropractic care, meditation and acupuncture to help veterans treat their pain.
And now, thanks to a sizable grant from the Massage Therapy Foundation, researchers at the Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management can start studying the effects of using massage therapy to manage veterans’ pain.
4 Ways Massage Therapy Can Help Veterans
As a massage therapist with over a decade’s worth of experience helping people find relief from chronic pain, I’m thrilled that researchers are gathering evidence for how massage therapy can provide healing for veterans who are struggling with both physical and mental pain.
While the results of the study are yet to be seen, I’m confident that massage can help veterans in four keys areas:
1. By providing healing from PTSD
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is caused by witnessing or experiencing of severe traumatic events. When certain triggers bring back memories of these events, veterans can have intense emotional reactions resulting in anger, depression, disassociation, and even violence.
It’s no secret that the therapeutic touch of massage provides stress-relief. It’s one of the main reasons anyone gets a massage, right? But stress-relief for a veteran experiencing PTSD can be especially beneficial on an emotional level.
In this beautiful Massage Magazine article, Serain Paige describes how massage therapy sessions at a week-long retreat became a life-changing and healing experience for veterans struggling with PTSD. As one veteran at the retreat explained:
It lets things out and you were able to release things that you were holding in for 40 years,” the veteran said of his massage experience. “Each day got better with the massages.
Massage boosts blood flow and provides a flood of feel-good chemicals to the brain, yes. But for someone who is suffering from trauma, massage also provides an avenue for connecting with the inner self, releasing harmful emotions and eventually healing that trauma.
2. By promoting better, more restful sleep
One troubling symptom of PTSD is chronic insomnia. As the VA reports:
“It has been argued that sleep problems, rather than being just symptoms of PTSD, are a hallmark of the disorder (5). In support of this viewpoint, insomnia occurring in the acute aftermath of a traumatic event is a significant risk factor for the later development of PTSD in civilian (6,7) and active duty (8) populations.”
By calming an overstimulated nervous system and flooding the brain with serotonin (which in turn produces melatonin, a chemical that can help you sleep), regular massage sessions can combat insomnia in veterans.
3. By treating symptoms of depression and anxiety
Calming the body calms the mind. While not a cure for depression or anxiety, massage therapy can help treat the symptoms of these conditions, such as:
- Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness
- Insomnia (see above)
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Suicidal thoughts
By reducing cortisol levels and increasing serotonin levels, your body is in a much better position to fight off negative thoughts, feelings, and pain.
4. Medication-free pain relief
In light of the veteran opioid crisis, massage is an excellent form of non-pharmacological pain management. Combined with other alternative forms of pain management such as yoga, stretching, meditation, chiropractic care, acupuncture and more, regular massage therapy sessions can help veterans manage their pain without turning to dangerous opioids.
Finding Light in the Darkness
U.S. veterans are heroes. By pledging their lives in the service of this country, these selfless men and women put everything on the line. Returning to civilian life when their service has ended oftentimes means returning with both physical and mental wounds, some so painful that they turn to addictive, dangerous and deadly opioids to find relief.
Massage therapy is a holistic, non-medicated way for veterans to find the healing they need. Along with other alternative therapies, massage can treat the visible as well as invisible wounds that afflict many veterans for healing that encompasses body, mind, and soul.
Click here to schedule your massage appointment today and start your journey towards a happier, healthier life.