Does Regular Exercise Prior to Military Service Protect Against Fatigue Fractures?

Research Paper Title

Regular physical exercise before entering military service may protect young adult men from fatigue fractures.

Background

Bone stress fractures are overuse injuries commonly encountered in sports and military medicine. Some fatigue fractures lead to morbidity and loss of active, physically-demanding training days. The researchers evaluated the incidence, anatomical location, risk factors, and preventive measures for fatigue fractures in young Finnish male conscripts.

Methods

Five cohorts of 1000 men performing military service, classified according to birth year (1969, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989), were analysed.

Each conscript was followed for his full military service period (180 days for conscripts with rank and file duties, 270 days for those with special training, 362 days for officers and highly trained conscripts).

Data, including physical activity level, were collected from a standard pre-information questionnaire and from the garrisons’ healthcare centre medical reports.

Risk factor analysis included the conscripts’ service class (A, B), length of military service, age, height, weight, body mass index, smoking, education, previous diseases, injuries, and subjective symptoms, as well as self-reports of physical activity before entering the service using a standard military questionnaire.

Results

Fatigue fractures occurred in 44 (1.1%) of 4029 men, with an incidence of 1.27 (95% confidence interval: 0.92-1.70) per 1000 follow-up months, and mostly (33/44, 75%) occurred at the tibial shaft or metatarsals.

Three patients experienced two simultaneous stress fractures in different bones. Most fatigue fractures occurred in the first 3 months of military service.

Conscripts with fatigue fractures lost a total of 1359 (range 10-77) active military training days due to exemptions from duty. Conscripts reporting regular (> 2 times/week) physical activity before entering the military had significantly fewer (p = 0.017) fatigue fractures.

Regular physical activity before entering the service was the only strong explanatory, protective factor in the model [IRR = 0.41 (95% CI: 0.20 to 0.85)]. The other measured parameters did not contribute significantly to the incidence of stress fractures.

Conclusions

Regular and recurrent high-intensity physical activity before entering military service seems to be an important preventive measure against developing fatigue fractures.

Fatigue fractures should be considered in conscripts seeking medical advice for complaints of musculoskeletal pain, and taken into consideration in planning military and other physical training programmes.

Reference

Pihlajamäki, H., Parviainen, M., Kyröläinen, H., Kautiainen, H. & Kiviranta, I. (2019) Regular physical exercise before entering military service may protect young adult men from fatigue fractures. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 20(1), pp.126. doi: 10.1186/s12891-019-2513-4.

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