Back Problems in Veterans

Veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. That's bad enough, but the number of veterans suffering from back injuries is much bigger. VA social worker Carroll McInroe says the strain put on the backs of young soldiers is making them into old men -and women- way before their time.
McInroe started to ask each and every vet who came through his office if they were suffering back pain. Just about all of them had pain, he says. "I would say 70 percent of them. And not just a little. I'm talking chronic stuff here — misaligned vertebrae, bulging discs, herniated discs, the whole list of back problems." At national conventions, he would share his informal findings with his counterparts at other VA facilities. They told him much the same situation prevailed in their offices. He called around to military hospitals and asked the nurses what their most common complaint might be. Back pain, he was always told.

He saw nothing like that among his cohorts in Vietnam. Since grunts have humped heavy packs since Napoleon's day with no resulting epidemic of back woes, McInroe believes that modern body armor is to blame. "It's too heavy. You can't just put 120 pounds on a 19, 20-year-old musculoskeletal system, 14 hours a day, 365 days a year and not create some real serious problems."

And in his view, this is a real serious problem indeed. If McInroe's estimate — that 70 percent of returning veterans have moderate to severe back problems — holds true across the nation, the costs to America's taxpayers will be enormous, and the bill will do nothing but grow and grow over the next 50 years.

The Houston Press has an extensive article on veterans, their pain, and the problems they have getting treatment. Link -via Digg

(Image credit: Brian Stauffer)

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There is a reason the military lets us retire at 42. I'm nothing but a desk jockey, but between deploying with body armor, and ammo, and running 3 or 4 miles a day, my back is completely ruined. I'm 36. It's so painful I have to take 8 motrin to sleep at night.
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One frustrating thing for me to observe is superiors ignorantly telling young soldiers and marines to remove and toss aside as needless 'fluff' the waist belts central to the load-distribution technology of modern military packs.

Notice that when you see footage or photos of soldiers with large backpacks, they are more often than not very hunched over. This is because they are naturally attempting to center their gravity while carrying great weight in packs that put all of the weight on their shoulders, the last place it should be.

Alpine science has taught us that a rigid frame can distribute the load of a heavy pack to a tight waist belt that can enable the pelvis to bear 90% of the weight. Then, ideally with most of the density of the load packed toward the top of the pack, one's center of gravity is high. This not only drastically increases maneuverability (think of balancing a tennis racket on your palm), it removes the compression stress on the spine, which nature designed as more of a suspension bridge than a load-bearing post. The military was right to follow the lead of the alpine industry in replacing its awful ALICE packs with internal-frame packs, but it is wrong to tolerate the widespread excuse that their crucial waist-belts slow the removal of the packs under duress or are incompatible with body armor and LBVs. The reality is that these waist belts are fully released in less than one second with a squeeze on the fastex clip that buckles them, and the packs are adjustable to fully accommodate BA and web gear. The real problem to overcome is the initial feeling and awkward sensation that such an arrangement doesn't look cool, and it must be tackled from the top.

The nature of modern grade-school backpacks is also a spinal doctor's nightmare, especially now that school-shooting hysteria has removed lockers from schools. Notice the hunched-over posture of the next 12yo kid you see walking to or from school with all 30lbs of his or her books. It's terrible.
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I'm gonna hazard a guess here and say that the back problems are from sitting reclined in uncomfortable seats or vehicles during 12-hour shifts. Who marches anymore, outside of PT or training, in our current theaters?
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This is not in ANY WAY to be interpreted as a refutation of the horrible things that military life does to your back (the military has no regard for bodily limitations), bit it must be noted that back pain is A. hard to refute, and B. a way to get your VA benefits bumped over the 30% hump. For those of you who don't know, 30% disability is the "magic number" beyond which a soldier can expect to be taken care of, medically, by the VA, in perpetuity.

Let's say you got out for damaged feet. That's 10% disability.

Tinnitus? Everybody in my unit has hearing loss and ringing ears. That's another 10% disability.

Does your back hurt? Sure it does, we just cleaned out our connexes. Ding! 30% disability.

I'm not saying our backs don't hurt, and some guys are utterly screwed up by stupid feats of military manliness, but there is an economic incentive to fudge, and that skews the numbers now, and costs a hell of a lot down the road.

It's amazing how many vets get out with an exact 30% disability rating. I did.
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