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Cervical and Lumbar MRI Findings in Aviators as a Function of Aircraft Type

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Landau D-A, Chapnick L, Yoffe N, Azaria B, Goldstein L, Atar E. Cervical and lumbar MRI findings in aviators as a function of aircraft type. Aviat Space Environ Med 2006; 77:1158–1161.

Background & Aims: Neck pain and lower back pain (LBP) are frequently reported by military helicopter pilots (HP) and fighter pilots. A small number of studies have used imaging methods to evaluate spinal cervical degenerative findings in pilots exposed to high +Gz, with results indicating an increase in cervical disk protrusions in this population. We evaluated the cervical and lumbar spine with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the prevalence of degenerative changes in three subpopulations of pilots. Methods: Fighter pilots (FP), transport pilots (TP), and HP (10 pilots in each group) underwent cervical and lumbar MRI. Degenerative pathologic changes (disk herniation, cord compression, foraminal stenosis, and the presence of osteophytes) were evaluated in each group by two independent experienced radiologists. Results: Cervical spine degenerative changes seemed to be associated with older age rather then aircraft type, affecting the older group of TP (8/10 pilots) more than the younger FP group who were exposed to high +Gz (3/10 pilots). In contrast, for lumbar spine degenerative changes, we found an uncommon pattern of lumbar spine degeneration in HP, affecting the upper part of the lumbar spine (10/13 disks found at L1-L4). Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that HP may have detectable degenerative lumbar findings. More research is needed to validate these findings as well as to explore the possible pathophysiological link between occupational exposures and the specific involvement of the upper lumbar spine.
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Keywords: cervical spine; lumbar spine; rotary wing

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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