How Army Veterans Cope with Chronic Pain: A Grounded Theory Approach

March, 2020

This piece of research sought to understand how armed forces veterans cope with chronic pain. Interviewing 7 veterans with chronic pain they found 5 theoretical categories that informed veterans coping with chronic pain; oscillating emotional responses, activation of coping strategies, ambivalent help seeking patterns and knowledge is power. The paper makes several recommendations including a veteran-civilian approach to care management.


Many veterans suffer chronic pain, which may be exacerbated by military shaped attitudes to health. There is a paucity of research that explores veterans’ experiences of developing coping strategies to manage chronic pain. This study employed a qualitative, Grounded Theory (GT) approach with seven participants. The participant involvement was via in-depth semi-structured interviews (male-6, female-1, mean age-46.0yrs, mean service-17.71yrs, mean pain-9.14yrs, pain sites-7, multiple pain sites-71%). The analysis led to the development of a theory of veterans’ relationship with chronic pain (CP). The analysis produced five theoretical categories that informed the Grounded Theory of veterans’ pain management strategies: “Oscillating Emotional Responses,“ “Activation of Coping Strategies.” “Ambivalent Help-Seeking Patterns,” and “Knowledge as Power.” The participants’ familiarity with military conditioning enabled them to feel in control of the uncontrollable and employ practical, pragmatic approaches to managing pain. Civilian status was associated with feeling somewhat vulnerable and less in control. The findings of this study are supported by previous studies, although this study challenges the view that veterans are poor help-seekers. Whilst veterans may have experiences that exacerbate pain unnecessarily, other experiences may reduce pain. Therefore, it is essential to employ a veteran-civilian approach to care management to understand the impact that collective life experience has on pain management. A veteran-civilian approach could be incorporated into personalized future pain management programs. By providing a rich sample of data, this research provides a basis for future studies to expand upon the current theory of veterans’ relationship with CP.

Full Reference

Hitch, C.M., Harper, B., Armour, C. and Waterhouse-Bradley, B., 2020. How Army Veterans Cope with Chronic Pain: A Grounded Theory Approach. Journal of Veterans Studies, 6(1), pp.122–134. DOI:

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