Osteoarthritis a Major Reason For Soldiers' Discharge


Osteoarthritis is the fourth leading cause of disability in the world, but in the US Army, it is the second most common reason soldiers are discharged. That’s the word from the results of a study presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ (AAOS) annual meeting.

Osteoarthritis is second only to battlefield injuries

A new study conducted by US Army doctors found that among veterans of the Iraq war, osteoarthritis is a major reason to discharge soldiers. From a group of 450 soldiers, 29 percent were declared to have traumatic arthritis and thus unfit for duty.

Osteoarthritis is a condition that involves various disorders that contribute to the limited function of one or more joints and also includes the adjacent muscles, bone, and ligaments. Approximately 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Among the civilian population, osteoarthritis can be caused by a variety of situations, including microtrauma, which typically is associated with repetitive movements performed over time, such as jogging, carpentry work, and other overuse motions. Other causes of osteoarthritis may include genetics, metabolic diseases (e.g., Paget’s disease), endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes), and inflammatory joint disease.


According to Col. James Ficke, MD, of the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, who presented the findings at the AAOS annual meeting, the group included a total of 292 injuries that involved the joints or bones. Half of the injuries resulted in the soldiers’ discharge for osteoarthritis.

Although osteoarthritis is often viewed as a condition that affects older adults among the civilian population, in the case of the Army study, the individuals are under 40. Ficke noted that “This cohort we looked at represents those young people,” and that osteoarthritis causes a “significant change in their lifestyle and their quality of life.”

Among the Iraq war veterans evaluated in this study, 80 of 83 soldiers who had knee (37 cases), elbow (22) or ankle (21) injuries were declared unfit because of arthritis in those joints, and 81 percent of the orthopedic injuries resulting in arthritis were caused by explosions. Traumatic fractures were responsible for 64 percent of all injuries, 11 percent were related to shrapnel wounds to the joints, and 10 percent were attributed to gunshots.

Only 8 percent of the discharges were related to preexisting conditions associated with disabling osteoarthritis, but among this group the most common cause of discharge was back arthritis.

These study results have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal and are considered preliminary at this point. However, the data offer the foundation for further research into how these injuries might be prevented.

Arthritis Foundation
Johnson A et al. AAOS 2011; Abstract P185