Military Have Higher Osteoarthritis Rates than General Public


Active duty US military personnel may be fighting for more than their country—another “enemy” may be osteoarthritis. A new study found higher rates of osteoarthritis among service members, with black military personnel experiencing significantly higher rates than whites and other races.

Army members have highest osteoarthritis rates

Physical and mental demands on military service members have been shown to contribute to or cause a number of health issues. In addition to the physical damage incurred by combat-related injuries, there are the emotional consequences, such as posttraumatic stress disorder and high suicide rates.

The demands of training and service among military personnel also appear to have a more insidious consequence—osteoarthritis. To identify the total number of incident cases of osteoarthritis among this population between 1999 and 2008, the Defense Medical Surveillance System (DMSS) was queried by gender, race, age, branch of military service, and rank.

Investigators found a total of 108,266 cases of osteoarthritis in this military population. Rates of osteoarthritis were nearly 20 percent higher among women than men, and among military service members age 40 and older, the condition was 19 times higher than in those younger than 20.


Blacks were 15 percent more likely to receive a diagnosis of osteoarthritis than were whites, and 26 percent more likely than service members in any other racial group to have the disease. Osteoarthritis among white military personnel was 10 percent higher than those in the other category for race.

The new study also found that junior and senior enlisted personnel and members of the Army had the highest incidence rates for osteoarthritis.

Previous research has shown that repetitive movement of the joints, traumatic injury to the joints, and other physical demands on the body have a role in the development of osteoarthritis. Although the disease was once believed to mostly affect people age 65 and older, some recent studies indicate those younger than 65 are most afflicted.

According to Kenneth Cameron, PhD, ATC, Director of Orthopedic Research at Keller Army Hospital in West Point, and one of the study’s authors, “The active duty U.S. military population provides an excellent opportunity to examine the incidence of OA [osteoarthritis] in a young and physically active population that is regularly exposed to occupational activities with repetitive joint movements.” Military members are also at high risk for traumatic joint injury, another contributor to osteoarthritis.

Cameron KL et al. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2011 published online June 29; DOI: 10.1002/art.30498


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