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Soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan suffering more spinal injuries: study

September 17, 2013

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Philadelphia – The incidence of spinal injuries suffered by U.S. soldiers in modern warfare may exceed previous conflicts, according to a new study from the William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

Researchers analyzed 7,877 casualty records from the Department of Defense Trauma Registry for 2005 to 2009 among soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. A total of 872 involved spinal injuries, 83 percent of which were fractures, according to the abstract. The rate of spinal injuries was 4.4 per 10,000 service members, which researchers said is 10 times higher than reported rates during the Vietnam War.

The main causes were explosions (75 percent) and gunshot wounds (15 percent). Odds of spinal injury were higher in the Army than other branches of the military, a press release states.

One reason for the higher rate could be that medical advances are allowing soldiers to survive injuries more than before, researchers said. (Personnel who died before receiving medical care were excluded from the study.)

The study was published online Sept. 15 in the journal Spine.