VA doctors see more veterans with noncombat neck, back or joint problems

By LINDSAY WISE
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
March 4, 2010, 6:16AM

Anthony Clark used to think nothing of running two miles in 14 minutes. Now the 44-year-old Iraq war veteran can’t walk without pain. “It’s a total life change,” said Clark, who developed severe back and shoulder problems while serving as an Army sergeant in Iraq in 2003.  “Physically, I can’t run,” he said. “I very much enjoyed hiking, working out, driving — you know, traveling. I try to do things and I can’t. It’s very limited. It’s kind of depressing because those are the things I really like to do.”  The pain became so bad that Clark left his retail inventory job to concentrate on physical therapy at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. He’s not alone. More than half of returning veterans evaluated at the medical center on Holcombe have been diagnosed with similar back, neck and joint pain from overuse or accidents, said Dr. Drew Helmer, lead primary care physician at the hospital’s clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “We tell our primary care physicians: ‘If you see a returning veteran and they don’t tell you about one of these things, they just forgot to mention it,’ ” Helmer said. “We all have back problems, but I think it rises into really an epidemic level in this population.”  A recent Johns Hopkins study found that the top reasons for medical evacuation from Iraq and Afghanistan are musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders, not combat injuries.  Researchers examined the records of more than 34,000 military personnel evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2007. They found that 24 percent of the service members had musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorders, compared to 14 percent who had suffered combat injuries.   read more

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