Back Injuries Plague Soldiers

Spinal injuries for military personnel are higher in recent wars than ever before

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) More soldiers are surviving war than ever before, but not without a price. While modern medicine can help heal wounds, it can not reverse all damage, leaving some veterans to live with disability and pain.

A recent study examines the frequency of spinal column injuries in American military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq from October 2001 until December 2009.

The study showed that spinal injuries in combat were higher in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom than in American military medical history.

By pinpointing the current trends and challenges in war injuries, researchers and designers can develop better protective gear and military leaders can be more informed about what tactics will help not just to save lives, but save a soldier’s future quality of life.

"Seek medical care if you have a spinal injury."

James A. Blair, MD, and colleagues from the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Brooke Army Medical Center and the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas searched the Joint Theater Trauma Registry for back, spinal column and spinal cord injuries.

The registry includes records for service members injured in combat operations from start to end of treatment abroad and in the United States. The registry does not include the 50,000 casualties and 4623 deaths that have occurred from 2001 until 2009 in the line of duty.

The researchers found within 10,979 evacuated combat casualties, 598 had spinal injuries. The total number of spinal injuries within the group was 2,101.

These injuries were categorized by anatomical location, neurological involvement, cause of injury and type of wounds.

Spinal injuries were often seen alongside abdomen, chest, head and face injuries.

Of the spinal injuries, 84 percent were results of combat and 17 percent included an injury to the spinal cord. Ninety-two percent were fractures.

Fifty-six percent of spinal injuries were caused by explosion. This was the most common cause of the injury, followed by motor vehicle collisions and gunshots.

More than half of all gunshot wounds resulted in a spinal cord injury. Gunshot wounds are more likely to cause spinal cord injury due to the stray fragments of the bullet and the surrounding tissue damage.

Gunshot wounds occur less frequently than in previous wars because foot travel is no longer a common mode of transportation in conflict zones.

Spinal injuries were not considered survivable before the Korean war in the early 1950s. Although more soldiers are surviving spinal injuries, many are living with disabilities and pain affecting their ability to work, their quality of life and the US healthcare system.

This study was published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

One or more authors have a financial relationship with a biomedical arena closely related to the topic of this study. No other conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
October 25, 2012
Last Updated:
November 1, 2012