The occurrence and severity of musculoskeletal disorders in Swedish military personnel during peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan

Eur Spine J. 2012 Apr;21(4):739-44. doi: 10.1007/s00586-011-2142-6. Epub 2012 Jan 7.


Background: Not much is known about musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in peacekeeping missions and to what extent such conditions are disabling. The objective of this study was to assess the occurrence and severity of MSD in Swedish military personnel on 6 months duty in Afghanistan.

Methods: When returning from Afghanistan 440 individuals received a questionnaire including questions about pain conditions during their mission abroad. A manikin was used to mark the area(s) in pain and which body area had bothered them the most. A modified version of chronic pain questionnaire was used to assess pain and disability.

Results: The response rate was 78% (n = 344). Any MSD during the 6 months was reported by 70% (95% CI 65-75). The three most bothersome areas were lumbar spine [17% (95% CI 13-20)], shoulders [17% (95% CI 13-21)] and lower extremities [14% (95% CI 11-18)]. 57% (95% CI 49-65) had grade I pain (low pain/low disability), 36% (95% CI 28-45) had grade II pain (high pain/low disability) and 5% (95% CI 3-10) had grade III pain (any pain/high disability). Of all MSD, more than half were new episodes since arrival and gradual onset was common.

Conclusion: Musculoskeletal pain was common during peacekeeping mission and gradual onset was dominating. Most often, it did not affect the daily activities. Nevertheless, it may be of important to consider broadening the medical disciplines onsite to provide preventive measures and treatment at an early stage, and thereby reducing the risk of chronicity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghanistan
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / ethnology*
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / ethnology