It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but now there are data that show military personnel who deployed with combat experience suffer from back pain more than service members who deployed without combat experience.
The study, published in Spine, came from analysis of 53,933 military personnel from the Millennium Cohort Study – the largest longitudinal study in military history – who did not report back pain at baseline, but did report back pain at follow up.
“Combat deployers had a 38% higher odds of reporting back pain at follow-up and 27% higher odds of repeated back pain, than noncombat deployers,” the authors reported.
Combat experience appears to be the primary risk factor rather than deployment itself, perhaps because of the higher physical demands and psychological load from life-threatening combat situations. Service support or supply handlers had increased odds of back pain compared with functional support or administrative occupations.
“Our study is the first to prospectively investigate back pain over multiple time points and focuses on deployment (differentiated by combat experience) and occupation as primary predictor variables. Other unique strengths include large sample size and inclusion of all Services and components of the military. Approximately 30% of the Cohort deployed in support of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 through 2006, resulting in robust numbers for investigating deployment-related concerns. Finally, self-reported health symptoms, such as back pain, may better frame health issues when there are no validated objective standards for outcome measures or potentially underreported medical visits.
Deployment with combat experiences was found to increase the odds of back pain and repeated back pain in a relatively young U.S. military and veteran population. This study frames the burden of back pain in the military, which may be associated with both reduced physical and mental functioning. Occupational associations identified may aid in targeted efforts to improve overall health and functioning long after leaving military service,” the study concluded.