Veterans not more likely to develop arthritis, study says

GLASGOW, Scotland — Military service can may very demanding work, but a new study finds it won’t put veterans at greater risk of developing arthritis.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow say that military service does not contribute to a higher risk of joint inflammation, which can lead to hip or knee replacement surgery. The team looked at 78,000 veterans and 253,000 civilians in Scotland born between 1945 and 1995.

Study authors used survival analysis to examine the risk of joint replacement in vets compared with non-veterans. That process examines the risk of veterans having to undergo a lower limb joint replacement in comparison with people who had never served. Results show, for knee replacement, their risk was no different from non-veterans. For hip replacement, it was actually slightly less.

Length of service not a factor either

Lower limb injuries and musculoskeletal disorders are the most common cause of medical discharge from the Armed Forces. However, scientists did not know whether this might lead to problems later in life which might impact a veteran’s care and mobility.

“This study is really important because military service involves a lot of physical activity and training, and lower limb pain is common,” says Dr. Beverly Bergman, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor and leader of the Scottish Veterans Health Research Group at Glasgow, in a university release. “Our results are very reassuring, particularly for older veterans who started doing a lot more running when the Fit to Fight program was introduced about 40 years ago.”

“We found that people who had served for longest, and had experienced many more years of physical training, also had the same risk as people with very short service, providing strong evidence that this level of physical activity does not increase the risk of arthritis in later life,” Bergman continues. “In our other studies we have shown that longer-serving veterans have better heart health, which also underlines the benefit of exercise.”

“Most ex-Service personnel transition to civilian life successfully, their lives enriched by their time in Service,” adds Thomas McBarnet from Forces in Mind Trust. “But if there are health risks which may be linked to time spent in the Armed Forces, it’s important that we understand what they are so the right support can be provided.”

“We are pleased to see these reassuring results, and Forces in Mind Trust will continue to work with Dr. Beverly Bergman OBE and her team to build a better understanding of the health risks ex-Service personnel may face.”

The study appears in the journal BMJ Military Health.

South West News Service writer Ellie Forbes contributed to this report.