Combat soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan have high rate of spinal injury

Researchers led by Andrew J. Schoenfeld, MD, of William Beaumont Army Medical Center found that spinal injuries made up 11.1% of casualties between 2005 and 2009 for soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The 11.1 percent rate of spinal injuries … represents the highest published statistic for Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other American conflict,” Schoenfeld and colleagues wrote in the study. Researchers pointed out that the rate of spinal injuries is 10 times higher than that of the Vietnam War.

The researchers conducted a manual search of casualty records in the Department of Defense Trauma Registry from 2005 to 2009. The researchers looked at demographics, injury mechanism, concomitant injuries, and year, nature and location of injury. Frequencies of spine casualties were compared against Defense Manpower deployment data in order to construct incidence rates.

Results indicated that of 7,877 combat wounded, 872 (11.1%) had spinal injury. Spine fractures comprised 83% of all spinal wounds. The incidence of combat-related spinal trauma was 4.4 per 10,000; spinal fracture incidence was 4.0 per 10,000. Although spinal injury occurred more frequently in Afghanistan, spinal injuries caused by gunshots occurred more often in Iraq. Overall, “the incidence of spinal trauma in modern warfare exceeds reported rates from earlier conflicts,” the researchers concluded.

For more information:

Schoenfeld A. Spine. 2013:doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31829ef226.

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