The Lived Experience of Military Women With Chronic Pain: A Phenomenological Study

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Mil Med. 2022 May 21:usac134. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac134. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION: Chronic pain, a persistent or recurrent pain lasting more than 3 months, is a widespread problem among military women due to combat-related injuries and post-deployment stressors. Risk factors associated with chronic pain include gender, mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, and prior physical or military sexual trauma. The most common prevalence of chronic pain is musculoskeletal (e.g., low back and neck), migraine, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. Following deployment, 25% of military women are at risk for chronic pain. Military women are prescribed opioids for pain at a higher rate than men and are at risk for prescription opioid addiction. The unique medical needs of military women, including chronic pain, are poorly understood by health care providers and need to be addressed to achieve full integration into the military. The purpose of this study was to explore a typical day for military women living with chronic pain by examining the participants’ daily life experiences.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: Using van Manen’s approach, 13 active duty, retired, and veteran women were interviewed to explore these lived experiences. The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of San Diego.

RESULTS: Eight themes emerged from an analysis of the participants’ experiences: (1) chronic pain is a frustrating, persistent, daily, and an hourly struggle; (2) resilience in living with chronic pain is the new normal; (3) mission first and the impact of invisible pain; (4) self-care management and internal locus of control with nonpharmacological therapies; (5) pain accepted and managed to improve quality of life; (6) coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) diminished social interactions; (7) pain of sexual trauma is not reported; and (8) disparities in health care due to self-perception of provider bias as pain is not understood.

CONCLUSIONS: The study generated new knowledge in Force Health Protection, ensuring (1) a fit and operational readiness force; (2) pre- to post-deployment care for women warriors; and (3) access to health care. The study findings supported previous research and could help direct future research into nursing, medicine, and allied health treatments for military and veterans’ gender-specific health care, education, and training. Furthermore, the military women in this study provided insight into the need for future research to explore unconscious gender bias, health disparities, and a raised awareness of military women living with chronic pain. Findings from this study merit further exploration using other qualitative research methodologies including mixed methods.

PMID:35596551 | DOI:10.1093/milmed/usac134