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Optimism May Protect Against Chronic Pain in Soldiers

FILE - U.S. Soldiers scan the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, Nov. 1, 2018.
FILE - U.S. Soldiers scan the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, Nov. 1, 2018.
Optimism May Protect Against Chronic Pain in Soldiers
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A new study finds American soldiers who showed strong optimism before deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq were less likely to develop long-term pain.

And those who felt more pessimistic were 35 percent more likely to report back pain, joint pain and headaches.

Those are the findings of a recent report in JAMA Network Open.

Afton Hassett is a researcher from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She said, “We found that optimism was protective for soldiers even when they were exposed to combat.”

The researcher added, “The most surprising thing was that even after we took into consideration (things) such as education, (and) marital status… the effects of optimism were still powerful.”

While optimism may seem like something that is natural and cannot be learned, Hassett said it could be developed.

“We don’t want to blame people for not being optimistic enough,” she advised. “But maybe we need to think about identifying soldiers who have low levels of optimism and perhaps help them with some pre-deployment programs.”

Hassett and the team of researchers examined information from 20,734 U.S. Army soldiers. About 37 percent of them reported pain in at least one new area of the body after deployment.

All had filled out questionnaires before deployment that measured their levels of optimism. One of the questions was, “If something can go wrong for me, it will.” Soldiers who already had some sort of pain before deployment were not included in the study.

The research also included information on the level of combat experienced by the soldiers. This included information like finding dead bodies, seeing people killed or wounded, feeling in great danger of being killed, using a gun in combat, experiencing an explosion or a car crash.

While the new study looked only at the development of long-term, or chronic, pain in the military, Hassett said it is not just about soldiers. She said there are many studies that link optimism to pain.

Dr. John Hache teaches pain medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania. He agreed the study could help with learning about chronic pain.

Hache added that the study suggests it might be possible to protect against chronic pain conditions.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

optimism – n. a belief that all is well

pessimism – n. the belief that things will probably go wrong chronic adj. without end

expose – v. to show

combat – n. meeting the enemy in a war