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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

Can a sympathetic nerve block relieve pain?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Pain, Pain management
Learn how sympathetic nerve blocks can help provide relief from chronic pain.

A sympathetic nerve block is a medical therapy, where an anesthetic solution (and sometimes a steroid) is injected into nerve bundles to help relieve your chronic pain. These nerve blocks target your sympathetic nervous system—a network of nerves that branch out from your spine to your body—affecting your digestion, breathing, and more.

Sympathetic nerve blocks offer temporary relief from pain, making it easier for patients to engage in physical therapy, which can stimulate mobility and decrease pain. The block numbs the pain generated by your nerves, leading to improved quality of life.

The procedure typically includes receiving intravenous (IV) medication to make you feel relaxed and sleepy before the nerve block is inserted. X-rays or other technology such as fluoroscopy are sometimes used to make sure the nerve block accurately targets the bundle of nerves. Your doctor will numb the area in your neck or back with a local anesthetic and inject the anesthetic solution (and sometimes other medicines) into the bundle.

Treatments are relatively quick (about 30 minutes), and patients usually can go home afterwards. Common side effects include soreness at the injection site and some weakness. Keep in mind some patients might need several treatments because everyone responds differently.

Research on the effectiveness of sympathetic nerve blocks is somewhat mixed. They don’t work for everyone, and pain relief might lessen over time. Depending on the type and location of your pain, other nerve blocks such as epidural steroid injections might be more appropriate. Sympathetic nerve blocks also might be most effective as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if a sympathetic nerve block is right for you.

Posted 18 May 2017

Take responsible action for your mental health

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
During Mental Health Awareness Month, HPRC takes a look at common barriers to seeking support for mental health concerns. Learn what you can do to get the help you need.

Warfighters lead stressful lives, so it’s important to seek support and resources to help you cope and stay ready for duty. While many wouldn’t hesitate to see their doctor about a physical ailment, asking for help to address psychological struggles can feel overwhelming.

Nearly 44 million adults in the U.S.—about 1 in 5—experience a mental illness every year. In the military population, those statistics are even higher. More than 1.6 million service members have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and almost 19% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And only half of those who need mental health support actually seek treatment.

There are many barriers that people encounter when seeking mental health support from outside sources. Here are examples of what the most common barriers sound like and some recommended courses of action (COA) you can take to start moving past whatever’s standing in your way. Read more...

Watch out for “hidden” sugars

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn about “added” sugars that can be hiding in some of your favorite foods.

Nearly everyone enjoys sweet treats, but keep a lookout for hidden sources of sugar in some packaged or even “healthy” foods, especially if you’re watching your sugar intake.

Some sugars occur naturally in fruits (fructose) and milk products (lactose). However, other sugars are added to foods and drinks during preparation, processing, or at your table. These include natural sugars (such as honey) and processed sugars (such as high-fructose corn syrup). Foods with added sugars include ice cream, some yogurts, baked goods, breakfast cereals, punches, and some sodas and energy drinks. Consuming foods and drinks with added sugars can increase your risk of tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So it’s important to limit your intake of foods and drinks with added sugars when possible.

Check food labels for hidden sources of sugar too. The Nutrition Facts panel was recently updated to include “added” sugars, and the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting them to no more than 10% of your calories per day. So try to limit your intake of foods and drinks with anhydrous dextrose, brown rice syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, malt syrup, maltose, maple or pancake syrup, molasses, honey, glucose, lactose, fruit nectars, brown sugar, sucrose, and sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, and mannitol. Still, there are ways to help reduce your “added” sugar intake and boost nutrition as well.

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits that contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try fresh or dried bananas, apples, or berries. Or choose fruits canned in 100% juice.
  • Limit sugar at your table. Add small amounts of sugar to your oatmeal, coffee, or tea. Or skip the syrup and top your whole-grain pancakes and waffles with fresh fruit.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Instead, try fresh or sparkling water flavored with sliced oranges or strawberries.

Visit the MedlinePlus page to learn more about sugar.

Posted 15 May 2017

How TBI affects couples' relationships

A traumatic brain injury not only changes your loved one, it also changes your relationship as a couple.

When your partner suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), changes to your relationship are likely. Both of you can experience a range of emotions as you adapt to new expectations in your relationship, but you can weather the changes. TBIs can occur without warning, and the path to recovery isn’t always clear, which can add strain to your romantic relationship. Read more...

Protect your back during your PCS

Don’t let PCS put you on profile. Make sure you’re moving properly to prevent injury during your move.

Service members and their families relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without adding a back injury to the mix. So be mindful of how you’re lifting and moving while you’re packing up and loading up. Try these tips to help reduce your risk of injury and properly move heavier things such as boxes and furniture.

  • Warm up, just like you would before any workout.
  • Remember to keep your core tight, and use your leg muscles (rather than your back) to lift heavy objects.
  • Keep objects as close to your body as possible.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from falling items.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. You can prep for your PCS by doing exercises—such as planks, lunges, and vertical core training—that focus on these areas.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you might have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the MedlinePlus guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. Certain yoga stretches also might relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function.

Read the U.S. Army Public Health Command’s “How to Safely Perform Pushing and Pulling Tasks” for more tips. And visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention section to learn more about how to protect your back. Good luck with your PCS!

Posted 11 May 2017

Lavender and stress reduction

Filed under: Anxiety, Lavender, Stress
Your sense of smell causes a variety of emotional responses. Can certain smells help you feel better?

Your sense of smell is a powerful tool when it comes to how you interact with your environment. Certain smells can alert you to danger or caution, while others can invoke feelings of relaxation or alertness. Lavender, in particular, might help reduce stress and anxiety.

The general properties of lavender oil are antibacterial, antifungal, sedative, and antidepressant among other things. While its pleasant smell might not physiologically change your stress response (that is, affect things such as cortisol, a stress hormone), it might just make you feel better. People have reported feeling less depressed and more relaxed when they inhale the scent of lavender. While this can be helpful for general anxiety, it might not be as helpful if your anxiety levels get too high.

Some also have reported that smelling lavender before bedtime helped them fall asleep more easily, wake less during the night, and feel less daytime fatigue. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try taking some deep breaths—and maybe have some lavender nearby to help. It comes in different forms such as essential oils, incense, Epsom salts, and whole herb. Find which one works best for you.

For more information about lavender, read the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's web page. Visit HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section to learn more about coping with stress too.

Posted 09 May 2017

Event-day nutrition strategies to excel

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Get nutrition guidance for a successful endurance event or competition. Learn how to fuel before, during, and after an event for optimal performance.

Whether you’re training for a ruck, doing mission-specific training, or competing in a marathon, you should be confident you have done everything you possibly could to prepare for this day. Hopefully, you have followed good basic guidelines for eating well-balanced meals, and you’ve consumed enough carbohydrates and protein during training, as discussed in “Daily nutrition strategies for endurance.” This second article looks at event-day nutritional strategies and event-specific preparation and follow-up to give you a performance edge. Read more...

Military kids and mindfulness

Encouraging your kids to be mindful supports their mental health. Learn how to bring mindfulness into your family.

Children can boost their mental wellness by learning and practicing mindfulness. It helps them be more aware of their thoughts and feelings “in the moment” and enables them to better manage their emotions and reactions. When children and teens accept their emotions, they can avoid becoming overwhelmed and suppressing their feelings. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, improve performance, and build resilience. Bringing mindfulness into your family can help create calm and peaceful times together. Read more...

Security clearances and mental health—Part 2: Q21 on SF86

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Part 2 of HPRC’s security clearances and mental health series takes a closer look at the implications of responses to question 21 on your SF86 security clearance application.

This is the second and final article in HPRC’s series about misunderstandings often connected to the relationship between mental health and security clearances. Keep in mind that the trustworthiness, dependability, reliability, and good judgment of an individual matter more than the simple act of seeking care for mental health issues.

Another common myth is that you may not be granted clearance by answering affirmatively to question 21 on the SF86. In fact, answering, “yes” to question 21 on the SF86 will not automatically disqualify you from gaining or retaining an active clearance. Read more...

Security clearances and mental health—Part 1: Judgment matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
In this two-part series, HPRC unpacks myths about the impact of mental health care on security clearances. Learn how good judgment and your response on question 21 on the SF86 are what really matters when it comes to clearance status.

One of the biggest reasons Warfighters hesitate to seek professional mental health care is the commonly held misunderstanding that getting such assistance could impact their security clearances. Here are some basics: The existence of a psychological diagnosis or disorder will not automatically disqualify you from getting or retaining a security clearance. Almost no one has lost a clearance for having a behavioral health diagnosis. Of those who have lost clearances, only 0.04% did so for solely psychological reasons. What’s more, the simple act of meeting with a mental health professional or obtaining mental health care will not automatically result in a loss of clearance. The issue of mental health and security clearance is complex, so it’s important to clear up some common misconceptions about how mental health can impact security clearance status.

HPRC provides a series of articles about mental health and security clearances, beginning with this one on how your good judgment favorably affects your clearance status. Read more...

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