Low back pain, mental health symptoms, and quality of life among injured service members

Health Psychol. 2020 Jul;39(7):549-557. doi: 10.1037/hea0000850. Epub 2020 May 14.


Objective: Pain is a significant public health issue that may be particularly problematic among injured service members who are at high risk of chronic physical and mental health conditions. The goals of this study were to describe the prevalence and types of low back pain (acute vs. recurrent) among service members injured while on combat deployments, and to examine the differences in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression prevalence and severity, as well as quality of life, for individuals with low back pain compared with those without.

Method: Baseline assessment data from a subset of participants (n = 4,397) in the Wounded Warrior Recovery Project, a large, longitudinal examination of patient-reported outcomes, were used in conjunction with Department of Defense medical records data.

Results: Almost half of participants had acute or recurrent low back pain diagnoses, and the majority of individuals had no diagnosis of low back pain prior to their deployment-related injury. Individuals with low back pain, particularly recurrent, screened positive for PTSD and depression at higher rates, reported more severe symptoms of these disorders, and demonstrated poorer quality of life than those without.

Conclusions: Low back pain was a prevalent issue among service members with deployment-related injury and was associated with worsened mental health outcomes and quality of life. Health care providers and researchers in multiple disciplines should consider the complex relationships between pain and mental health in order to further optimize treatment and outcomes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mental Health / standards*
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • United States