Background: The majority of soldiers deployed to the theater of combat operations return safely after completion of the deployment. Many of these soldiers sustain non-emergent musculoskeletal injuries that initially are treated nonoperatively and ultimately require surgery following their combat tour.
Methods: A prospective evaluation of the orthopaedic surgery consultations and surgical procedures required by soldiers returning from a full combat deployment was performed. Demographic information (including age and sex) as well as information on the mechanism of injury, the reason for orthopaedic consultation, and the procedures performed was collected for each soldier. The overall incidence of non-emergent orthopaedic injuries was calculated, and multivariate Poisson regression analysis was utilized to determine the effect of age and sex on the type of orthopaedic injury sustained.
Results: There were 3787 soldiers who returned from combat operations at the end of a fifteen-month deployment without having been medically evacuated. There were 731 orthopaedic surgical consultations for the evaluation of a non-emergent musculoskeletal complaint, and 140 orthopaedic operations were performed as a result. An age of thirty years or more was an important risk factor for requiring an orthopaedic consultation (p < 0.0001). The most common surgical procedures were performed for shoulder stabilization, for superior labrum anterior to posterior lesion repair, for the treatment of internal derangement of the knee, and for the treatment of foot deformity.
Conclusions: Nineteen percent of all soldiers who completed a combat deployment required an orthopaedic surgical consultation on return, and 4% of soldiers required orthopaedic surgery. More than half of the surgical procedures involved the knee or shoulder. This represents a large burden of care for returning soldiers on orthopaedic surgical services and has important implications for future resource utilization.
Level of Evidence: Prognostic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, 5005 North Piedras, El Paso, TX 79920
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Keller Army Community Hospital, United States Military Academy, 900 Washington Road, West Point, NY 10996
Naval Postgraduate School, 1411 Cunningham Road, GL-220, Monterey, CA 93943