Spinal Disabilities in Military and Civil Aviators

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The purpose of this study was to analyze the nature and cause of spinal disabilities among military and civil aircrew in India.

Summary of Background Data.

Studies suggest that military aircrew may be more prone than nonaviators to develop spinal disabilities. An in-depth analysis of such disabilities can enable policy makers to develop data-driven preventive health programs. Extensive literature search did not reveal even a single study focusing on spinal disabilities in symptomatic aircrew.


A case record of each aircrew is maintained at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Indian Air Force, Bangalore, India These records were accessed for all aircrew evaluated for spinal disabilities from the year 2000 to 2006.


The total data comprises of 239 military and 11 civil aircrew. Most of the military aircrew were from the fighter stream. The spectrum of causes for spinal disabilities ranged from ejection, aircraft accidents to road traffic accidents, and falls. Degenerative disc disease was the leading cause in helicopter and transport pilots, whereas fractures were the predominant category in fighter pilots. A total of 153 vertebral fractures and 190 intervertebral discs were involved. There were significant differences in the age and distribution of this aircrew.


Spinal disabilities assume significance for variety of reasons. Firstly, a large number of spinal disabilities caused by vehicular trauma are preventable. Second, they generally entail a prolonged course of recovery. Third, they can result in loss of trained human resources, especially when the individual cannot return to his or her original workspace.


This study provides insights into the nature of spinal disabilities in civil and military aviation. Ejection and aircraft accidents remain the leading cause of vertebral fractures. Disc degenerative disease is a cause of concern. Physical conditioning and regular physical exercise may possibly minimize spinal disabilities in susceptible aircrew.

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