Musculoskeletal Pain in Military Populations

Research Paper Title

Musculoskeletal Pain and Headache in the Active Duty Military Population: An Integrative Review.


Since 2001, the U.S. Armed Forces’ training and deployment have greatly increased, escalating the risk of injury and pain-related issues both at home station and deployment environments.

This integrative review examines the incidence, prevalence, and risk factors for musculoskeletal pain (MSP) and headaches in active duty (AD) military populations.


Peer-reviewed research published between 2001 and 2016 was identified relevant to MSP and headache in AD military personnel using MeSH terms in key biomedical databases. Inclusion criteria were:

  • Epidemiological studies examining MSP or headache as primary or secondary outcome;
  • Samples that included AD populations; and
  • Studies conducted in the theatre of operations, at home station, and in military treatment or Veterans Health Administration facilities.


Twenty-six articles met inclusion criteria. Low back pain (LBP) was the most prevalent MSP diagnosis. The incidence of LBP was 40.5 per 1,000 person-years and was comparable to nonmilitary populations. Inflammation and pain from overuse comprised the largest proportion of injury mechanism, accounting for about 82% of all injuries among nondeployed military personnel. The risk of MSP was greater for AD, female, Army, enlisted personnel, and those with greater time in a motor vehicle.

Evidence suggests posttraumatic headache, occurring in up to 92% of military personnel who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, is associated with chronic daily headaches.


Nurses must recognise the consequences military service can have on the development of pain. Nurses have an opportunity to positively impact the health and well-being of military and veteran populations through early recognition and treatment of pain.

Linking Evidence to Action

The findings from this review underscore considerable magnitude of MSP in military personnel and expose modifiable risk factors and potential targets for designing nurse-led interventions to improve pain and symptoms in military sub-populations.


Bader, C.E., Giordano, N.A., McDonald, C.C., Meghani, S.H. & Polomano, R.C. (2018) Musculoskeletal Pain and Headache in the Active Duty Military Population: An Integrative Review. Worldviews on Evidenced-Based Nursing. 15(4), pp.264-271. doi: 10.1111/wvn.12301. Epub 2018 Jun 29.


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