A wide variety of injuries affect veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to amputations have gained a considerable amount of attention, but experts say that chronic pain caused by musculoskeletal conditions may be one of the most prevalent issues. A recent analysis from Minnesota Public Radio found that the number of doctors seeing troops with joint disorders has steadily increased over the last decade, The Associated Press reports.
Wide variety of causes
The analysis relied on data from VA hospitals in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota and found that doctors saw a 133 percent spike in the number of troops with joint damage between 2003 and 2012. While the statistics were drawn from those three states, experts say it's a nationwide trend, and not all joint issues are caused by wounds suffered during battle. Instead, some of these injuries are caused by heavy gear, body armor and long treks.
"With those big heavy packs on it's hard to even stand," Dr. Paul Huddleston, an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic and veteran himself, told the AP. "People hurt their knees and backs acutely just from walking around with all that. Shoulder injuries are not uncommon."
Not being ignored
With the growing prevalence of joint injuries, the Department of Defense has recognized that it needs to make an effort to create armor and gear lighter and less burdensome for troops. Most recently, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the DOD conduct studies to find the best methods to reduce the weight of such equipment. Those findings are due to the Congress by June 22 of this year, according to Army Times. However, making armor lighter is often not that easy.
"We've taken your grandmother's china, wrapped it in Kevlar and given you the capability," Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller told Defense News. "You want more protection? More china, more Kevlar, that's weight."
The need is increasingly great
Whether it's TBI, post-traumatic stress disorder or joint damage, addressing the medical needs of veterans will become particularly important over the coming months and years as thousands of servicemembers head home from Afghanistan and separate from service alone. In the Army alone, officials are looking to cut the size of forces by about 70,000, meaning more troops will be looking for work in the civilian world and if they're hampered by lingering joint damage that could be a serious issue.