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Publication Briefs

Painful Musculoskeletal Conditions More Prevalent among Female Compared to Male OEF/OIF Veterans

Musculoskeletal conditions are among the most common diagnoses of both male and female Veterans returning from deployment, and diseases of the musculoskeletal system are the most frequent diagnoses among OEF/OIF Veterans. Several early studies showed especially high rates of musculoskeletal injuries in female service members during basic training; in addition, civilian women more frequently report painful musculoskeletal conditions than men. This observational study sought to describe gender differences in the prevalence of painful musculoskeletal conditions in male (n=395,332) and female (n=54,997) OEF/OIF Veterans discharged from the military between 9/01 and 9/09, who had used VA healthcare. Using VA data, investigators determined the prevalence of back problems, musculoskeletal conditions, and joint disorders in years 1-7 after the end of their deployment. For each year of analysis, the sample was limited to Veterans with a VA healthcare encounter during that year.


  • The prevalence of back pain, musculoskeletal conditions, and joint disorders increased significantly in years 1-7 after deployment among both female and male Veterans using VA care. Moreover, the odds of having back pain, a musculoskeletal condition, or a joint disorder was higher for female compared to male Veterans and increased over time after adjusting for demographics.
  • The prevalence of back problems was 3.9% among female Veterans and 4.3% among male Veterans in the first year after the end of their last deployment. Among Veterans still receiving VA care 7 years after last deployment, prevalence of back problems had increased to 19.6% among females and 17.2% among males.
  • The prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions was 2.2% among female Veterans and 2.1% among male Veterans in the first year after the end of their last deployment. By 7 years after last deployment, prevalence had increased to 12.4% among females and 9.6% among males.
  • The prevalence of joint disorders was 4.2% among female Veterans and 4.4% among male Veterans in the first year after the end of their last deployment. By 7 years after last deployment, prevalence had increased to 19.5% among females and 16.7% among males.


  • While many Veterans in the sample completed one year of care, far fewer completed up to 7 years of VA care. The apparent increase in the prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions over time may be because patients with persisting symptoms are more likely to continue with VA care than those who have recovered.
  • Findings cannot be generalized to all OEF/OIF Veterans, as the sample included only those who sought VA care.

This study was funded through HSR&D (DHI 07-065). Dr. Haskell is part of HSR&D’s Pain Research, Informatics, Medical comorbidities, and Education (PRIME) Center in West Haven, CT and Dr. Krebs is part of HSR&D’s Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice in Indianapolis, IN.

PubMed Logo Haskell S, Ning Y, Krebs E, et al. The Prevalence of Painful Musculoskeletal Conditions in Female and Male Veterans in 7 Years after Return from Deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. Clinical Journal of Pain June 14, 2011;E-pub ahead of print.

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HSR requires notification by HSR-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR published articles. Visit the HSR citations database for a complete listing of HSR articles and presentations.

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