Prevalence and potential risk factors of flight-related neck, shoulder and low back pain among helicopter pilots and crewmembers: a questionnaire-based study
BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Flight-related neck, shoulder and low back pain are the most common musculoskeletal disorders among helicopter pilots and their crewmembers, thus becoming a growing concern. Information on the combined prevalence of these types of pain and related risks are scarce. The aim of this study was therefore to estimate pain prevalence and to evaluate potential risk factors for neck pain among helicopter pilots and crewmembers within the armed forces, the airborne police and airborne rescue
... s in Austria. Methods: Among a cohort of 104 helicopter pilots and 117 crewmembers (69.8% compliance), demographics, flying experience, use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG), helicopter type flown, prevalence and intensity of musculoskeletal symptoms (pain was defined as any reported pain experience, ache or discomfort) were collected by an online-based questionnaire. Results: For helicopter pilots the 12-month prevalence of neck pain was 67.3%, followed by low back (48.1%) and shoulder pain (43.3%). Among crewmembers, the 12-month pain prevalence were 45.3, 36.8 and 30.8% among the neck, lower back and shoulder, respectively. During this period, 41.8% of these helicopter pilots had experienced 8-30 pain days in the areas of neck (45.7%), shoulder (37.8%) and lower back (42.0%) whereas 47.8% of crewmembers self-reported 1-7 days of neck (54.7%), low back (44.2%) and shoulder (44.4%) pain in the previous year. The 3month prevalence of neck pain was 64.4% followed by low back (42.3%) and shoulder pain (38.5%) for helicopter pilots. Among crewmembers, 41.9% suffered from neck, 29.9% from low back and 29.1% from shoulder pain the previous 3 months. Multivariate regression analysis revealed NVG use (OR 1.9, 95% CI, 1.06-3.50, p = 0.032), shoulder pain (OR 4.9, 95% CI, 2.48-9.55, p < 0.001) and low back pain (OR 2.3, 95% CI, 1.21-4.31, p = 0.011) to be significantly associated with neck pain. Conclusions: The 12-and 3-month prevalence of neck, shoulder and low back is considerably high among both, helicopter pilots and crewmembers confirming the existence of this growing concern. The use of NVG devices, shoulder and low back pain in the previous 12 months represent independent risk factors for neck pain. These findings highlight the need for longitudinal studies.