In high-performance aircraft, the need for total environmental awareness coupled with high-g loading (often with abrupt onset) creates a predilection for cervical spine injury while the pilot is performing routine movements within the cockpit. In this study, the prevalence and severity of cervical spine injury are assessed via a modified cross-sectional survey of pilots of multiple aircraft types (T-38 and F-14, F-16, and F/A-18 fighters). Ninety- five surveys were administered, with 58 full responses. Fifty percent of all pilots reported in-flight or immediate post-flight spine-based pain, and 90% of fighter pilots reported at least one event, most commonly (>90%) occurring during high-g (>5 g) turns of the aircraft with the head deviated from the anatomical neutral position. Pre-flight stretching was not associated with a statistically significant reduction in neck pain episodes in this evaluation, whereas a regular weight training program in the F/A-18 group approached a significant reduction (mean = 2.492; p < 0.064). Different cockpit ergonomics may vary the predisposition to cervical injury from airframe to airframe. Several strategies for prevention are possible from both an aircraft design and a preventive medicine standpoint. Countermeasure strategies against spine injury in pilots of high-performance aircraft require additional research, so that future aircraft will not be limited by the human in control.
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