Optimistic Soldiers Less Likely to Experience Postdeployment Pain

Members of the United States Army with high levels of optimism before a deployment may have decreased odds of postdeployment pain compared to pessimistic soldiers, a recent study suggests.

Eligible study participants were soldiers (active duty, Reserve, and National Guard) who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq between Feb. 12, 2010, and Aug. 29, 2014. Psychological and health assessments were completed before and after deployment.

Final analysis included data on 20,734 soldiers, of whom 87.8% were male; mean age was 29.06 years. Just above half (52.1%) of respondents reported high optimism, while 39.9% and 8% reported moderate and low optimism, respectively. Overall, 37.3% of soldiers reported postdeployment pain in at least one new area of the body: 25.3% reported new back pain, 23.1% experienced new joint pain, and 12.1% developed new frequent headaches.

“As a continuous measure, each 1-U increase in optimism was associated with 11% lower odds of reporting any new pain after deployment (odds ratio [OR], 0.89; 95% CI, 0.86-0.93),” the researchers wrote. “Examining the pain areas separately revealed that optimism was associated with 8% lower odds of developing new back pain (OR, 0.92; 95% CI, 0.88-0.96) and 8% lower odds of developing new joint pain (OR, 0.92; 95% CI, 0.88-0.96).” Optimism and onset of new frequent headaches were not significantly correlated (OR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.91-1.02).

When modeling optimism tertiles, researchers found that compared to soldiers with high optimism, those who reported low optimism had 35% greater chances of new pain (OR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.21-1.50), 30% greater likelihood of new back pain (OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.16-1.46), 21% greater chances of new joint pain (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.07-1.38), and 18% increased odds of new frequent headaches (OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.01-1.38). “In addition, we observed a larger increase in odds of new pain when comparing the moderate-optimism and low-optimism groups rather than the high-optimism and moderate-optimism groups,” they added.

The researchers suggested using data from Army psychological assessments to help cater programs geared toward optimism to soldiers who would benefit the most from them.

One of the researchers reported several disclosures, including “that the University of Pennsylvania has a proprietary interest in Master Resilience Training, which is the backbone of the US Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program; reported that the University of Pennsylvania also licenses such resilience and positive psychology training programs to private companies and that he receives a nominal fee from the university for some of these; and reported often being paid to give speeches in which he mentions resilience and resilience training.”

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Source: JAMA Network Open