The additional mass and fit of current military in-service body armour (ISBA) can reduce pulmonary function in a way that is characteristic of a restrictive respiratory impairment. This could ultimately impair exercise capacity and military performance. This study compared pulmonary function (forced vital capacity [FVC] and forced expiratory volume in 1 s [FEV1]) in UK ISBA (15.3 kg) and three flexible body armours (BAs) (FA1: 10 kg; FA2: 7.8 kg; FA3: 10 kg) in eight male soldiers. The design of the ballistic plates differed between the BAs to improve the flexibility. FVC and FEV1 were reduced by 4-6%, without reduction in FEV1/FVC for ISBA, FA2 and FA3, when compared to NoBA (p < 0.05). No difference was observed between FA1 and NoBA. As expected, wearing BA caused a mild restrictive ventilatory impairment; however, modifications to BA design can reduce the degree of this impairment. Practitioner Summary: This study showed that wearing body armour caused a mild restrictive ventilatory impairment. However, the design of the armour can be modified to reduce the degree of this impairment. This may lead to improvements in soldier performance during tasks that require body armour.
Keywords: Protective armour; chest wall restriction; load carriage; lung function; respiratory function.