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Learning the tools to manage chronic pain

by 1st Lt. Ellen Harr
59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Like many motivated Airmen, Staff Sgt. Robin Morrow is determined to make the most of her career.

Chronic back pain after an automobile accident and spinal surgery almost shortened the career of the noncommissioned officer in charge of point-of-care testing for the 859th Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron.

After the accident, her duties as a hospital lab technician were modified. She could no longer work out, let alone take the physical fitness test. Even normal activities after work, like going out with friends, became difficult. There was also a chance that she might have to separate from the Air Force because of medical problems.

"The main thing was that pain overshadowed every decision I made. I couldn't do anything without thinking about how much pain it would cause first. Pain ruled my life," she said.

Sergeant Morrow received care at Wilford Hall Medical Center here, the same hospital where she worked. She saw specialists and completed physical and occupational therapy programs. She visited the chiropractor and had surgery on her spine. Nothing made the pain go away.

She then was referred to Wilford Hall's interdisciplinary pain treatment program, Functional Occupational Rehabilitation Treatment, in which medical, physical therapy, occupational therapy and psychological care providers joined together to determine a treatment plan.

"I was skeptical at first, because I felt like I had already tried everything. But I thought the program was an interesting idea and I was willing to give it a try," she said.

Sergeant Morrow joined about 10 other servicemembers in the six-week program. Participants all worked out together and went to classes on learning to manage their pain. Sergeant Morrow joined about 10 other servicemembers in the six-week program. Participants all worked out together and went to classes on learning to manage their pain.

They also met individually with the rehabilitation providers to determine their treatment plan and progress. The program's care providers collaborated to administer intensive treatment, specifically tailored to Sergeant Morrow's condition, an advantage her previous therapy had not offered.

At 21, Sergeant Morrow was the youngest person in the group; the oldest was about 45. All participants were active-duty service members, representing all ranks, branches of service and types of injuries.

"For me, the most challenging part of the program was when they gave me the workout plan," she said. "I had to lift boxes and put weights in boxes. Before, I would always just say 'I can't do it.' So overcoming that and doing what they wanted me to do made me realize I can do these things."

"It made a world of difference," she said. "For someone who has never experienced chronic pain, it may be difficult to understand what a difference this program has made. It would have been so easy just to quit my job and lie on my parents' couch. But for anyone who is in pain, this program is so worth it."

Sergeant Morrow is now qualified to be stationed or deploy anywhere in the world. Her life and career are no longer limited by pain. (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)

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