By Ms. Jennifer Clampet (Army Medicine)July 19, 2012
FORT BLIS, Texas -- Missing work can be a real pain in the neck. Even more frustrating, though, is an actual pain in the neck.
Doctors at William Beaumont Army Medical Center are heading up the Army's first Acute Pain Clinic -- part of a Department of Defense-wide initiative to combat pain management in the military.
"The initiative is focused on chronic pain," said Col. Richard Petri Jr., chief of the new Interdisciplinary Pain Management Center at WBAMC.
"But the best treatment of chronic pain is adequate and timely treatment for acute pain."
Soldiers at Fort Bliss suffering from back or neck pains for one week and not related to traumas can take advantage of the new holistic clinic without obtaining referrals.
One less headache
That's right. The Acute Pain Clinic offers a walk-in service on Wednesdays from 8 to 9 a.m. Soldiers are assessed and then scheduled with follow-up appointments over the course of two weeks.
"It's a direct route for treatment," said Dr. Patricia Lopez-Po, family medicine MD. The clinic is held in the Integrative Health Center, Bldg. 2485D, across the street from bowling alley on Fort Bliss.
At the clinic Soldiers are assessed by a roundtable of providers in acupuncture, chiropractic care and family medicine who then assess the ailment before prescribing treatment.
Why treat a pain in the neck or back?
"It's about breaking an acute pain cycle getting back to work and back to normal quicker," said Dr. Aaron Harris, a chiropractic physician with WBAMC.
Treatment of fresh acute pain with holistic and conventional medicines does not guarantee a prevention of chronic pain in the future. However, said Harris, it can lessen the severity of future reoccurring pain.
The Acute Pain Clinic will also take an educational approach in explaining ways for Soldiers to avoid injuries in the future.
"A lot of people want to downplay back pain, but the fact of the manner is we're in the Army and Soldiers have to perform like elite athletes," Harris said.
"It's not a glamorous topic but we need to do more to address it."
Hard facts on back pain
Lower back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States -- just after headaches, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Americans spend about $50 billion a year on low back pain -- an ailment that is listed as the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work.
For the intricate structure of bone, muscles and tissue protecting the spinal column, the back can and often does take the brunt of physical exertion activities. Pain can occur when someone lifts something too heavy, overstretches or causes a sprain, strain or spasm in one of the muscles or ligaments of the back.
And while a prescription of Motrin and a profile for 30 days is a common approach to pain, Petri said what the clinic is striving for is a paradigm shift in the military's way of thinking.
Can't I just take a pill?
The Acute Pain Clinic is a beta test site for this new approach toward hedging off chronic pain.
If findings are successful, the Army could duplicate the clinic's structure and processes exporting the concept to brigade and troop medical clinics.
"We need to educate the Soldiers that there is no magic pill. There is no magic physical therapy. There is no magic injection. You really need to be involved in your care," Lopez-Po said.
"We want to take the Soldiers away from that idea that narcotics are the key. We'll guide them step by step, and I think that's very important."