5 Common Military Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Introduction

Military personnel can receive military injuries from a variety of activities, with the most common military injuries in the UK armed forces including:

  • Injuries from training exercises;
  • Injuries on the battlefield;
  • Blast or firearm injuries;
  • Collisions involving military vehicles;
  • Injuries caused by military equipment;
  • Cold weather injuries, including hypothermia and frostbite;
  • Hot weather injuries;
  • Musculoskeletal injuries;
  • Falls from height and crush injuries;
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus; and
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

From 2014/15 to 2018/19, the rate of injury and ill health reported in the UK Armed Forces increased – although the number of incidents has stayed much the same, the number of people in the Armed Forces has decreased – and, as a result, the rate of injury and ill health reported has increased from 35 incidents per 1,000 personnel, to 40 incidents per 1,000 personnel.

Over half of all injuries occur during training, with physical training and adventure training being the cause of the vast majority of training injuries. Of those injuries, 35% affect the lower body (foot, leg, ankle, knee or hip).

With this in mind, it is uncommon to meet a Servicemember who has not suffered a military injury, no matter how minor, during their military career. While some circumstances are unavoidable, you can prevent most injuries with simple prevention tactics.

The most common military injuries include back injuries, knee injuries, and musculoskeletal injuries from, for example, lifting/carrying heavyweights and military equipment. Studies have estimated that, in the US, approximately 27% of men and 60% of women are injured during military training, ranging from 6 to 12 injuries a month for every 100 male recruits.

This article covers the most common military injuries and some simple tips to help avoid them.

1. Back Pain And Spine Disorders

According to the United States Bone and Joint Initiative, back pain is the leading cause of disability among the American population. The National Centre for Health Statistics also states that one in four adults experience chronic low back pain. This pain can result from inflammation or arthritis, previous spine injuries, or disc disorder.

Unfortunately, military personnel are at greater risk of developing back pain and spine disorder as a consequence of their work. They often carry heavy loads, pivot quickly, or jump unexpectedly. Luckily, in the event of back pain or spine disorder, medial branch block services will be ideal to ensure that you get better and back on your feet.

Simple Prevention Tips

  • Practice standing and sitting up straight.
  • Get moving and drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

2. Ankle Sprain

One of the most common lower body musculoskeletal injuries is an ankle sprain. Studies show that these injuries are more common in female soldiers than male soldiers. However, the reason behind this is not yet apparent.

An ankle sprain occurs when the foot turns in an unusual motion. There are ligaments in the ankle that keep you stabilised and hold ankle bones in place. These ligaments should not exceed a specific range of motion (ROM) – meaning, when your ankle twists beyond its ROM, the ligaments can tear or stretch causing a sprained ankle (with damage ranging from very minor to major issues).

Often, soldiers do not give the ligaments time to heal correctly (especially during training courses where they do not want to risk being medically withdrawn). However, this elevates the risk of subsequent ankle sprains. If you experience a sprained ankle, it is advisable to seek qualified professional assistance.

Simple Prevention Tips

  • Frequent stretching to keep your ankle flexible.
  • Perform strengthening exercises and ankle range of motion to keep your ankle strong.
  • Protect your ankle by taping and wearing safety boots and an ankle brace, as necessary.
  • Do not overdo exercises.

3. Patellar Tendon Injury

The patellar tendon works together with the muscles in the front thigh to straighten the leg when jumping and running, and also to kick. When the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone is torn or damaged, it causes patellar tendon injury.

A small tendon tear can make it hard to walk or do any activity. A more significant tendon tear is a preventable but disabling injury that requires physical therapy and surgery to recover fully.

A patellar tendon injury can occur when the knee bends and the foot is planted, for instance, when jumping. It can also result from a fall when the front knee is hit first, for example.

Simple Prevention Tips

  • Warm-up and warm down and stretch after exercise.
  • Avoid jumps that make you land on hard surfaces like concrete.
  • Consider wearing knee caps when exercising.
  • Perform exercises that strengthen your leg muscles.

4. Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Tinnitus is a persistent buzzing or ringing in the ears, and does (generally) result from physical training, but is a common military injury.

Tinnitus and hearing loss are mainly caused by loud noises and sounds in training and exposure to weapon noise during operations.

Sensorineural is a permanent and most diagnosed hearing loss. This type of hearing loss occurs when the inner ear is damaged or when the nerve pathways are damaged, hindering sound from traveling to the brain.

Simple Prevention Tips

  • Use ear protection when exposed to loud noises, especially during training.
  • Where possible, avoid stress, depression, fatigue, and anxiety as they contribute to these conditions.
  • Get regular ear checkups.
  • Use supplements like magnesium and N-acetyl-cysteine to help treat these conditions.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

5. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is more of a disorder than an injury. It is the most common type of arthritis affecting thousands of soldiers and civilians. Unfortunately, soldiers are at higher risk of this disorder, than the general population, due to their military service.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage, joints, and ligaments wear down. Although this condition affects any joint, it mainly affects joints in your knees, hands, hips, and spine.

As noted by the UKs NHS:

Osteoarthritis is a long-term condition and cannot be cured, but it doesn’t necessarily get any worse over time and it can sometimes gradually improve. A number of treatments are also available to reduce the symptoms. Mild symptoms can sometimes be managed with simple measures including: regular exercise.

Simple Prevention Tips

  • Warm-up and down before and after exercises to reduce the risk of joint injuries.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight to ease the stress on your joints.
  • Control your blood sugar.
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen your joints.
  • Listen to the pain – If your joints hurt, it could be a sign you have done too much.

Summary

Due to the physical nature of military service, soldiers face a higher risk of injuries. Whether the injuries are short-term, persistent, or chronic, prevention is better than cure. Recognising the early signs of an issue and taking the necessary actions to reduce the risks is best to avoid injuries. If you are in any pain, it is advisable to seek medical assistance for a better diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Also, you should ensure that you take a nutritious, balanced diet for faster healing.

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