Low-back pain is the most common injury of war, affecting nearly half of all veterans. And the pain is more than a little bothersome. Recent research from John Hopkins School of Medicine shows that musculoskeletal disorders like back pain are not the most common cause of medical evacuations from combat.
Despite its prevalence, few studies have analyzed the risks factors associated with back pain during deployment, and ways to limit its incidence in soldiers.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine sought to better understand which combat soldiers are more likely to develop back pain.They studied a group of 805 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan with a US Army Brigade Combat Team.
During the year long study, 77% of soldiers experienced some form of back pain, and 22% developed moderate to severe symptoms. Several factors increased the risk of back pain including older age, lower fitness scores, wearing body armor for long hours, and carrying heavy loads. Males and soldiers whose tasks included long walking patrols were also more likely to experience moderate to severe back pain.
The findings suggest a possible avenue for preventive strategies. If Infantry and Calvary units are more likely to suffer from back pain due to heavy loads and long patrols, such units could benefit from preventive care like exercise therapy and chiropractic. Studies show that chiropractic can prevent recurring back pain, and can also provide effective relief for veterans with musculoskeletal conditions.
Roy TC, Lopez HP, and Piva SR. Loads worn by soldiers predict episodes of low back pain during depoloyment in Afghanistan. Spine 2013; [E-pub ahead of print].