Background The long-term effect of repetitive trauma by military parachuting on the lumbar spine is not well investigated. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the development of lumbar degenerative changes during a 30-year follow-up in Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces (JGSDF) parachute infantry soldiers with normal lumbar radiographs at entry by comparison with those with non-parachute infantry soldiers.
Methods 79 non-parachutists and 65 parachutists were included for radiological examination and questionnaires for low back pain (LBP). All subjects were non-commissioned officers with similar socioeconomic status and life styles. The number of parachuting descent during the 30-year in the parachute group ranged from 208 to 630, with an average of 322.
Results The mean age of the subjects was 18.3 ± 0.5 years at entry and 48.5 ± 0.3 years at follow-up. LBP had been experienced by 37% in the non-parachute group and 25% in the parachute group with no significant difference. The nature of their LBP was judged as mild. The prevalence rate of degenerative changes was similar in both groups. Disc space narrowing was detected 37 subjects (47%) in non-parachute group an 23 subjects (35%) in parachute group without significant difference. Vertebral osteophytes were detected in 52 subjects (67%) in non-parachute group and 47 subjects (72%) in parachute group without significant difference.
Conclusions This study did not identify any significant differences in the development of lumbar degenerative changes between the parachutists and non-parachutists over a 30-year follow-up, suggesting that military parachuting itself does not accelerate the development of intervertebral disc degeneration. Further studies are needed using large cohorts assessed by MRI as well as plain X-ray.
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