Back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world. Other muscle and joint pain complaints, such as arthritis, are nearly as prevalent. A new study published earlier this month in The Lancet indicates soldiers in modern combat remain at high risk for these types of injuries.
In the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reviewed medical evacuations from Iraq and Afghanistan over the four year period of 2004 – 2007. They found nearly a third of all medical evacuations were for muscle, joint, and back pain unrelated to combat or other wounds. That’s more than double the evacuation rate for combat injuries which resulted in only 14% of evacuations over the same period.
Soldiers regularly carry heavy physical loads in combat situations which can contribute to the debilitating muscle, joint, and back pain found in the study. What makes the problem especially burdensome to the military is even after evacuation, many of the evacuated still weren’t able to find pain relief. Only about 13% of those evacuated for musculoskeletal, connective tissue, or spinal pain issues were well enough to return to duty 2 weeks after evacuation.
Besides the low healing rate of muscle, joint and back pain overall, another fact was called out by the researchers. Soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are nearly twice as likely to experience all kinds musculoskeletal complaints including back and neck pain. Once evacuated for back pain, those having a concurrent psychiatric diagnosis like PTSD also had a decreased likelihood of returning to duty by as much as 38%. This further validates other researchers’ discoveries that stress has a lot to do with back pain and recovery.
NOTE: The Healthy Back Institute is going to donate 1000 copies of it’s Lose the Back Pain program to men and women of the military suffering from various types of back, neck and sciatic pain.