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Pain in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans


Updated July 22, 2009

If you are or have a loved who is an Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran, then you likely know that the experience of pain is a common and potentially debilitating physical ailment.

It's not uncommon for OEF/OIF veterans to have a number of difficulties, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, alcohol abuse and difficulties managing anger. They also have a number of physical health problems -- particularly pain.

Pain in OEF/OIF Veterans

Pain is a common physical health problem reported by veterans, regardless of the war they were involved in. For example, Persian Gulf War veterans had high rates of headaches, joint pain, back pain, muscle pain, and abdominal pain.

In one study involving almost a thousand OEF/OIF veterans, thwere were very high rates of pain-related problems. Almost 60% of those surveyed indicated that they experience moderately-severe to severe pain. The most common pain reported was back-related pain. However, many also reported pain in their limbs, neck and abdomen.

Why Such High Rates in OEF/OIF Veterans?

There are a number of reasons why OEF/OIF veterans may be at high risk for the experience of pain. OEF/OIF veterans are experiencing more explosive blast injuries, gunshot wounds, and motor vehicle accidents than Persian Gulf War veterans. OEF/OIF soldiers are also experiencing more and longer deployments than those involved in other ways. More deployments mean greater stress on the body and potential for bodily harm. Many of the OEF/OIF soldiers are older than those in previous wars, which may place them at greater risk for problems with pain.

In addition, high rates of PTSD have been found among OEF/OIF veterans, and people with PTSD have been found to experience high levels of pain. In fact, pain is one of the most regularly reported physical problem reported by people with PTSD — no matter what type of traumatic event was experienced (motor vehicle accident, physical assault or combat). Hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD may cause frequent muscle tension that could result in chronic pain.

In addition, other disorders often co-occur with PTSD, and these disorders may contribute to the development of pain. Depression, which frequently is experienced by people with PTSD, may cause a person to avoid or limit physical activities, resulting in disability and poorer health which eventually increases the likelihood of problems with pain.

Coping with Pain

The experience of pain can have a major impact on the quality of a person's life. It can interfere with a number of pleasurable activities. Therefore, it is incredibly important to seek out help or find some healthy and effective ways of coping with pain. You can learn more about how to treat and cope with pain from Dr. Jonathan Cluett, About.com Guide to Orthopedics.


Asmundson, G.J.G., Coons, M.J., Taylor, S., & Katz, J. (2002). PTSD and the experience of pain: Research and clinical implications of shared vulnerability and mutual maintenance models. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47, 930-937.

Gironda, R.J., Clark, M.E., Massengale, J.P., & Walker, R.L. (2006). Pain among veterans of operations enduring freedom and iraq freedom. Pain Medicine, 7, 339-343.

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