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Madigan Army Medical Center is changing the way it treats PTSD. US Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Ebert demonstrates an experimental virtual–reality PTSD treatment in 2007. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Madigan Army Medical Center is changing the way it treats PTSD. US Army Staff Sgt. Jeff Ebert demonstrates an experimental virtual–reality PTSD treatment in 2007. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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Madigan Army Medical Center Redefines Pain Care

Patricia Murphy

Servicemembers and employees at Washington's Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Lakewood plan to observe a moment of silence at 5:46 a.m. Tuesday morning. That's the time 11 years ago that the first plane hit the World Trade Center Tower. Since that time, thousands of servicemembers injured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan live with chronic pain.

Until recently powerful and addictive pain killing drugs were the first line of defense. But the Army is trying to change that by taking a more nuanced and holistic approach. Madigan Army Medical Center across from Joint Base Lewis–McChord is one of a handful of interdisciplinary pain management centers trying to treat more than a soldier's physical injury. The program was developed with the help of the University of Washington's Center for Pain Relief.


Being a warrior is as much about the mental as it is the physical. And so is dealing with chronic pain. Duane Lowe is a chiropractor working at Madigan Pain Management Center.

Lowe: "Really what anyone of us are doing is we're trying to win the battle of the mind."

Patients in chronic pain get depressed and that can expand to other areas of their lives: relationship trouble, drug and alcohol addiction, suicide.

Lowe: "It's the mind and the emotions that we're really are trying to fix here the pain is the thing that's getting in the way of that."

So the first thing patients get is a mental and physical evaluation.

Patients referred in to the six–week intensive program also have access to acupuncture, Yoga, meditation and massage. This type of wrap around care is intended to help lay a disciplined foundation for living and moving.

Sergeant Keith Curry joined the army in 2003. He drove a truck in Iraq. Curry says he'd have to sit tight inside that truck for many, many hours while on mission. He's a big guy with a broad chest and thick legs. He says his body armor fit him badly and his legs used to go numb. Until one day —

Curry: " — went to get out of a vehicle quickly while on mission. I told my body to move and my legs just wouldn't do it. The pain was so severe I couldn't even hold my own body weight. And I'm in a combat situation with a downed vehicle and I'm actually trying to do a tactical movement and I just could not perform my duty."

Curry says when he returned from deployment it seemed like he was constantly jumping hurdles to try and get the attention of army docs.

Curry: "You're provider has so many soldiers that they have to look at that are also coming back from deployment and by the time you finish all there steps you know and finally get to where you need to go and well guess what well that provider or that specialist has there ten steps that they have to do. By the time time you finish their 10 steps well you know there's really no rhyme nor reason."

Now he sees multiple doctors several times a week. He receives acupuncture, massage and chiropractic care.

Curry: "Sometimes you get overwhelmed with the amount of care, which is ok."

OK for Curry but some people do drop out. Colonel Diane Flynn is chief of pain medicine at Madigan. She says managing pain is tough work. Flynn says for some patients finding the right balance of motivation and determination can be tricky. And that's what her staff with different specialties can help a patient figure out.

Flynn: "What's keeping them, even if the patient knows it's a good idea to get up and go to the gym or walk as far as they can walk what's getting in the way what's making it hard for them to carry through on their own goals. And then helping them figuring out how to overcome those barriers."

Keith Curry and others in the program say it has not only helped alleviate some of their pain but has helped them to understand their pain better and win the next battle of the mind.

I'm Patricia Murphy, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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