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Chronic Disease

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One-third of U.S. veterans suffer from arthritis, perhaps due to orthopedic injuries sustained in the military

About one-third of U.S. veterans suffer from arthritis, according to a new study. For some, the arthritis may have resulted from orthopedic injuries they sustained while in the military. Military training and service often involve situations that place personnel at greater risk for orthopedic injuries. For example, soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm often wore Kevlar helmets and heavy battle gear while riding in trucks over desert terrain. These soldiers commonly reported extreme posterior neck pain. Screening individuals entering military service for predisposing factors for orthopedic injury, such as skeletal malalignment, may help reduce these injuries. Use of foot orthotics, supportive shoes, bracing, and individualized stretching and strengthening programs may also reduce the risk of injury to veterans, suggest the Duke University Medical Center investigators.

They found that 32 percent of veterans surveyed in 36 States had been diagnosed with arthritis, compared with 22 percent of nonveterans. Also, 43 percent of veterans using the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system (who tend to have more disabilities and poorer health) had been diagnosed with arthritis compared with 30 percent of veterans who did not use VA health care.

Veterans were twice as likely as nonveterans to report chronic joint symptoms and activity limitations, as were veteran users of VA health compared with veterans who did not use VA health care. The findings were based on responses from 123,395 veterans and nonveterans to the arthritis survey of the 2000 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS00079).

See "Arthritis prevalence and symptoms among U.S. non-veterans, veterans, and veterans receiving Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare," by Kelli L. Dominick, Ph.D., Yvonne M. Golightly, P.T., M.S., and George L. Jackson, Ph.D., in the February 2006 Journal of Rheumatology 33(2), pp. 348-354.

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