According to a Navy study, military helicopter pilots suffering chronic back and neck problems have been covertly seeking treatment at civilian medical facilities rather than use their health insurance at a military medical facility.
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The Military Addresses Chronic Neck and Back Injury in Aviators


According to a Navy study, military helicopter pilots suffering chronic back and neck problems have been covertly seeking treatment at civilian medical facilities rather than use their health insurance at a military medical facility, fearing that their injuries could jeopardize their military careers.

Studies have shown that chronic back pain and spinal injuries are common among military airmen, due to longer missions in tight aircraft cockpits.

After careful study, the military is re-aligning its priorities to support their aviators'
physical and medical needs.


Over 8,000 military aviators from all military service branches participated in an April 2011 survey, listing hours flown, intensity of pain, and medical treatment sought. The survey data, analyzed by former U.S. Navy safety chief Dick Healing, indicated that as many as 80 percent to 90 percent of helicopter crewmembers suffer lower back pain or injury.

Spine injury is old news to military aviators. In a 2005 study, Navy doctors Lt. Paul Sargent and Lt. Angela Bachmann even coined a term, "Helo Hunch" referring to the uncomfortable and damaging posture of military helicopter positioning.


For airmen, poor posture and heavy gear are linked to the problem of chronic lower back pain, but the biggest problem might be helicopter seats themselves, which are designed to sustain crash forces but have no clear design for the flying comfort of military aviators.


Another major problem for military aviators is dramatically longer flight times in these non-body friendly seats. In 2000, the average flight time in a helicopter was 90 minutes, but for military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, flight time can be six to eight hours.


A panel of active and retired admirals and generals will meet in Washington, D.C., in July 2011 to analyze and create solutions from the aviator survey and industry experts. The panel will then make recommendations to the Defense Department on how to improve and prevent chronic back pain for military aviators.

Solutions to chronic pain suffered by military aviators include creating exercise regimens for aviators to strengthen the lower back, installing NASCAR-style molded seats in military helicopters, and re-designing the entire helicopter cockpit. Future helicopter designs may prioritize personal military health standards, rather than putting mission readiness first and asking later, how do we accommodate the physical health of our airmen in the design of our equipment?



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