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Soldiers Treated for Neck Pain Unlikely to Return to Duty

Only 14 percent of combat soldiers medically evacuated for neck pain returned to their units

MONDAY, April 26 (HealthDay News) -- The treatment of medically evacuated soldiers with neck pain at a military treatment facility is associated with low return-to-unit rates, according to a study in the April 1 issue of Spine.

Steven P. Cohen, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and colleagues studied 374 soldiers who were evacuated out of theaters of combat operations between 2004 and 2007 to the level IV military treatment facility in Landstuhl, Germany, for a primary diagnosis pertaining to neck pain.

The researchers found that only 14 percent of the soldiers returned to their units, and observed significant correlations between female gender and non-army service affiliation and a return to duty. They also observed weak trends toward a return to service for nonsmokers, associated headache complaints, concomitant psychiatric diagnosis, lack of previous neck pain, and referral to pain management.

"Because of the unique circumstances faced by deployed service members and the nature of this study, these results should be interpreted with caution and may not be applicable to other populations with neck pain," the authors conclude. "Future studies should focus on whether the identification and early treatment of vulnerable personnel can improve return-to-duty rates, and if forward-deployed pain management capabilities enhance overall success rates."

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