Veteran Spotlight | A Look into Polytrauma

Date:  November 9, 2016


Veteran Spotlight | A Look into Polytrauma

istock_4523901_webA 73-year-old Canadian Armed Forces Veteran walked into his chiropractor’s office with low back pain and chronic pain in his left knee and hip and his right shoulder. He developed these from long hours spent in a military helicopter.

Just like this patient’s story, musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries among military personnel are very common. It is estimated that low back pain occurs twice as often in the Canadian Armed Forces as it does in the general population.1 Many MSK conditions may result from risks linked to service, like spending long hours sitting through vibrations with full equipment in a military helicopter.

The patient above said his quality of life changed after his injury: walking, using stairs, and lifting objects with his right arm were affected by his pain. He even had to stop his favourite hobby, woodworking, 10 years ago.

With advances in body armour, there are now more survived soldiers coming away from service with serious injuries that in the past may have resulted in the loss of life. Soldiers can have a combination of serious injuries and traumas that are interrelated—a concept known as polytrauma.2

Polytrauma can include multiple injuries which are physical, cognitive, psychological, or psychosocial in nature. These are catastrophic injuries—like serious head injuries or burns—which often lead to disability and chronic pain. These patients require an entire team of healthcare professionals working collaboratively to treat them. These teams can include medical doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, and chiropractors.2

In the United States, there are some polytrauma clinics that specifically deal with the complexities of combat-wounded polytrauma patients, and those clinics include chiropractors.2

Most combat-related polytrauma patients who are referred to chiropractors have neck and back pain as secondary problems.2 Some have also suffered amputations. MSK-related pain can impact the recovery of a Veteran, particularly as they move through different stages of rest and recovery. They may require assistance and modifications with sleep positions, wheelchair use, sporting activities, and other personal needs like adjusting to prosthetic limbs.

The Veteran’s story above has a positive outcome: after eight chiropractic sessions, he had improved enough to go on 30-minute walks with his wife and start woodworking again. He felt an improvement both in his spine and muscles, as well as his outlook on life.

In honour of those members of the Armed Forces who have served, continue to serve, or have been injured or lost their lives in the line of duty, this Remembrance Day, please wear a poppy and consider donating to your local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.



  1. Rowe P, Hébert l. The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on the Armed Forces. Shaping the Future: Military and Veterans Health Research. Aiken A, Bélanger S, eds. 2010.
  2. Goldberg KF, Green B, Moore J, et al. Integrated musculoskeletal rehabilitation care at comprehensive combat and complex casualty care program. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2009; 32(9): 781-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2009.10.010.