Injuries: the modern military epidemic

By MAJ VANCIL MCNULTY, U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive MedicineAugust 7, 2009

A progressive, silent, seemingly unimportant foe has emerged as the number one health threat to U.S. armed forces. This threat is caused neither by virus nor germ, but by a military tradition to perform, excel and exceed. Its name is "injury," and it represents the greatest threat to U.S. military readiness.

The injury rate for the Army is 2,500 reported injuries for every 1,000 Soldiers. This means that every Soldier could potentially go to sick call at least twice a year for a musculoskeletal injury.

Injuries that affect the low back, knee, ankle and shoulders account for most of the visits. These numbers don't include injuries from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom; they include only injuries from Army garrisons.

If the definition for "epidemic" is "extremely prevalent; widespread; affecting many persons at the same time," the military and the Army are experiencing an epidemic of injuries.

The good news is that efforts over the last 25 years by both military and civilian agencies to understand how we get injured and to prevent injuries are yielding helpful information.

Scientific studies now tell us where injuries come from and who is most at risk. A recent (2008) technical report developed by DoD's Joint Services Physical Training Injury Prevention Work Group recommends strategies that can potentially reduce physical training and overuse injuries in the armed forces by 25 to 50 percent.

This information will do nothing to reduce the injury epidemic unless every Soldier and especially every Soldier in a leadership position understands the basics of injury prevention. Unit leaders, not the medical community, are the ones in positions to implement and enforce change.

Leaders can access an online video course at entitled, "Injury Prevention Through Leadership." This short course, based on the working group's technical manual, introduces viewers to the causes and extent of injuries, then offers practical, evidence-based prevention strategies. It can be the foundation for proactive leaders to start injury prevention programs in their units.

The top threat to readiness is identified and can no longer remain hidden. All that remains is for Soldiers and leaders to perform, excel and exceed at injury prevention.

2007 Department of Defense

statistics about military injuries:

There were 2.1 million injury-related medical visits, affecting 900,000 service members.

Injuries were the second cause of hospitalizations, accounting for almost 110,000 days in hospital.

Injuries were, and are, the leading cause of outpatient clinical visits.

Musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 68 percent of all limited-duty days and medical profiles; they add up to an estimated 25 million limited-duty days per year.