Body Armor and Lumbar Disc Herniation in Young Military Veterans: A Case Series

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Military Medicine


Introduction: Soldiers on the battlefield are affected by heavy body armor and excessive march load. It is well known, but the long-term effects of this extra weight on the musculoskeletal system of military veterans, specifically the lumbar spine, are unclear. In Iraq and Afghanistan, most body armors weighed over 33 pounds (15 kg). These armors were 3 times heavier than those used in Vietnam. Chiropractors at the Fargo VA Hospital are seeing more young veterans with non-traumatic lower back pain. This article presents a perspective on the impact of body armor weight and excessive carry load on lumbosacral disc herniation with radicular pain in military veterans.

Materials and methods: This study is a retrospective case series. We used a convenient sampling method. We selected the first 10 military veterans who came to a Fargo VA chiropractor in late fall 2023. Each veteran filled out a VA Form 10-5345 to give us permission to access their electronic health records. All 10 veterans also completed a survey. The survey asked about their active combat status, the type and weight of their body armor, how long they wore the armor each day, how much weight they carried, and their opinion on the cause of their lower back pain (service related or not). The Fargo VA does not require an institutional review board for a case series.

Results: This study found that military veterans experience lower back pain at an average age of 35 years. This is at least 5 years earlier than non-service men. Lower back pain with disc herniation typically occurs at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 disc levels. All 10 veterans in the study believe that their lower back pain is related to their service. Sixty percent of the participants in the study have a service-connected disability because of back pain.

Conclusions: For military veterans, onset of lower back pain from a disc herniation at a young age may be linked to carrying heavy body armor and loads. However, the small sample size of this case series limits causal relationship inferences.



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