Home Cervical Traction to Reduce Neck Pain in Fighter Pilots

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Introduction: Most fighter pilots report cervical pain during their careers. Recommendations for remediation lack evidence. We sought to determine whether regular use of a home cervical traction device could decrease reported cervical pain in F-15C pilots. Methods: An institutional review board-approved, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant, controlled crossover study was undertaken with 21 male F-15C fighter pilots between February and June 2015. Of the 21 subjects, 12 completed 6 wk each of traction and control, while logging morning, postflying, and post-traction pain. Pain was compared with paired t-tests between the periods, from initial pain scores to postflying, and postflying to post-traction. Results: In the traction phase, initial pain levels increased postflight, from 1.2 (0.7) to 1.6 (1.0) Subsequent post-traction pain levels decreased to 1.3 (0.9), with a corresponding linear decrease in pain relative to pain reported postflight. The difference in pain levels after traction compared to initial levels was not significant, indicating that cervical traction was effective in alleviating flying-related pain. Control pain increased postflight from 1.4 (0.9) to 1.9 (1.3). Daily traction phase pain was lower than the control, but insignificant. Discussion: To our knowledge, this is the first study of home cervical traction to address fighter pilots' cervical pain. We found a small but meaningful improvement in daily pain rating when using cervical traction after flying. These results help inform countermeasure development for pilots flying high-performance aircraft. Further study should clarify the optimal traction dose and timing in relation to flying.



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