Back pain and its consequences among Polish Air Force pilots flying high performance aircraft

Aleksandra Truszczyńska 1, 2, 3  ,  
Faculty of Rehabilitation, Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education, Warszawa, Poland
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Centre of Postgraduate Medical Education, Professor A. Gruca Independent Public Research Hospital, Otwock, Poland
Faculty of Rehabilitation, Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw, Marymoncka 34, 00-968, Warszawa, Poland
Aeromedical Training Division, Department of Flight Safety, Department of Aviation Physiology, Military Institute of Aviation Medicine, Warszawa, Poland
Int J Occup Med Environ Health 2014;27(2):243–251
Objectives: Back pain in Air Force fast jet pilots has been studied by several air forces and found to be relatively common. The objective of the study was to determine the prevalence and degree of the pain intensity in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, subjective risk factors and their effect on the pilots' performance while flying high maneuver aircrafts and the consequences for cognitive deficiencies. Material and Methods: The study was designed as a retrospective, anonymous questionnaire survey, collecting data on the age, aircraft type, flying hours, pain characteristics, physical activity, etc. The study was participated by 94 pilots aged 28-45 years (mean age: 35.9±3.3 years), actively flying fast jet aircrafts Su-22, Mig-29 and F-16. The estimates regarding the level of the subjective back pain were established using visual analogue scales (VAS). Results: The values of the Cochran and Cox T-test for heterogeneous variances are as follows: for the total number of flying hours: F = 2.53, p = 0.0145, for the pilot's age: F = 3.15, p = 0.003, and for the BMI factor F = 2.73, p = 0.008. Conclusions: Our questionnaire survey showed a significant problem regarding spinal conditions in high performance aircraft pilots. The determination of the risk factors may lead to solving this problem and help eliminate the effect of the unfavorable environment on piloting jet aircrafts. Experiencing back pain during the flight might influence the mission performance and flight safety. The costs of pilots education are enormous and inability to fly, or even disability, leads to considerable economic loss. More research on specific prevention strategies is warranted in order to improve the in-flight working environment of fighter pilots.