A Focus on Non-Amputation Combat Extremity Injury: 2001-2018

Mil Med. 2022 May 3;187(5-6):e638-e643. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usab143.


Introduction: Extremity injuries have comprised the majority of battlefield injuries in modern U.S. conflicts since World War II. Most reports have focused on serious injuries only and, to date, no reports have described the full extent of combat extremity injuries, from mild to severe, resulting from post-9/11 conflicts. This study aims to identify and characterize the full spectrum of non-amputation combat-related extremity injury and extend the findings of previous reports.

Methods: The Expeditionary Medical Encounter Database was queried for all extremity injured service members (SMs) deployed in support of post-9/11 conflicts through July 2018. Only injuries incurred during combat operations were included in this report. Major amputations were excluded as well as SMs killed in action or who died of wounds. Extremity injuries were categorized by body region, nature of injury, and severity. Demographics and injury event characteristics are also presented.

Results: A total of 17,629 SMs sustained 42,740 extremity injuries during 18,004 separate injury events. The highest number of SMs were injured in 2004 (n = 3,553), 2007 (n = 2,244), and 2011 (n = 2,023). Injured SMs were mostly young (78% under 30 years), male (97%), junior- to mid-level enlisted (89%), in the Army (69%) or Marine Corps (28%), active duty (84%), serving as infantry and gun crew (59%), and injured in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (60%). Blast weaponry was responsible for 75% of extremity injuries. Injuries were similarly distributed between the lower (52%) and upper (48%) extremities. The most common sites of lower extremity injury were the lower leg/ankle complex (40%) and thigh (26%). The most common upper extremities sites were the shoulder and upper arms (37%), and the hand, wrist, and fingers (33%). Nearly half (48%) of all extremity injuries were open wounds (48%), followed by fractures (20%) and contusions/superficial injuries (16%). SMs sustained an average of 2.4 extremity injuries per event and 56% of injuries were considered mild, with a median Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 3.

Conclusion: This study is the first publication to capture, review, and characterize the full range, from mild to severe, of non-amputation combat-related extremity injuries resulting from post-9/11 conflicts. The high prevalence of extremity injury, particularly in such a young population, and associated short- and long-term health outcomes, will impact military health care systems for decades to come.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Amputation, Surgical
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Upper Extremity / injuries