News Release

Explosions are the main cause of spine injuries to wounded military personnel

Study of spinal injury data may help surgeons treat injured soldiers or civilians

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Spinal injuries are among the most disabling conditions affecting wounded members of the U.S. military. Yet until recently, the nature of those injuries had not been adequately explored.

In a new study recently published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (JBJS), a team of orthopaedic surgeons reviewed more than eight years of data on back, spinal column, and spinal cord injuries sustained by American military personnel while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The injuries were then categorized according to anatomic location, neurological involvement, the cause of the injury, and accompanying wounds.

The resulting analysis is an important first step in helping orthopaedic surgeons develop treatment plans for these service members, as well as for severely injured civilians who sustain similar disabling injuries.

Key Findings:

  • Of 10,979 evacuated combat casualties, 598 (5.45 percent) sustained a total of 2,101 spinal injuries.
  • Explosions accounted for 56 percent of spine injuries, motor vehicle collisions for 29 percent, and gunshots for 15 percent.
  • 92 percent of all injuries were fractures.
  • The average age at the time of injury was 26.5 years of age.
  • 90 percent of the injured were enlisted personnel.
  • 84 percent of patients sustained their wounds as a result of combat.
  • In 17 percent of injuries to the spine, the spinal cord also was injured.
  • 53 percent of all gunshot wounds to the spine resulted in a spinal cord injury.
  • Spinal injuries were frequently accompanied by injuries to the abdomen, chest, head, and face.

"In these current military conflicts, the latest technologies in body armor, helmets, and other protective devices have helped save many soldiers' lives," says James A. Blair, MD, an orthopaedic surgery chief resident in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX. "We also have access to advanced life-saving techniques in the field and medical evacuation strategies that are keeping many more service members alive.

"But when a person survives an explosion or vehicle collision, there has still been a great deal of force on the body," Blair adds. "Many of those survivors are coming to us with severe injuries to their spine and back. We needed to describe and characterize these injuries so recommendations can be made on how to provide the most effective treatment and rehabilitation for our wounded warriors."

Although the survival rate is high for such injuries, the disability rate also is quite high. This affects not only the service members, but also their families and the U.S. healthcare system. Therefore, the study's authors note, further research is required to improve future outcomes for those with spinal injuries.


September 19th Full JBJS Table of Contents

The Efficacy of Intraarticular Injections for Pain Management Following the Closed Reduction and Percutaneous Pinning of Pediatric Supracondylar Humerus Fractures: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Realiability and Validity of Diagnosing Acetabular Labral Lesions Using Magnetic Resonance Arthrography

Prospective, Observational Study of Donor Site Morbidity Following Anterior Illiac Crest Bone Grafting in Orthopaedic Trauma Reconstruction Patients

Corrosion at the Head-Neck Taper as a Cause for Adverse Local Tissue Reactions in Total Hip Arthroplasty

Quantification of Humeral Head Deformity Following Newnatal Brachial Plexus Palsy

Sclerostin Antibody Increases Bone Volume and Enhances Implant Fixation in a Rat Model

Cementless Total Hip Arthroplasty with the Rectangular Titanium Zweymuller Stem. A Concise Follow-up, at a Minimum of Twenty Years, of a Previous Report

The Effect of Iliac Crest Autograft on the Outcome of a Fusion in the Setting of Degenerative Spondyloisthesis? A subgroup analysis of the SPORT study

Variability in Costs Associated with Total Hip and Knee Replacement Implants

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