Pick Your Poison: Back Pain, or Neck Pain?
For the majority of pilots flying high performance fighter aircraft such as the F-22, F-35, F-15, F-16, A-10 and T-38, it is not uncommon to suffer musculoskeletal injuries involving the vertebrae. The seat in the F-16 causes more neck related injuries, as opposed to seats in the F-15 & F-22, where the pain concentrates in the upper and lower back. The Viper’s seat is oriented at an ~30 degree incline, and the Eagle/Raptor at a more conservative ~15-20 degree incline. Inclining the seats in these respective airframes disperses the blood in the upper half of the body, reducing the possibility of GLOC. The more parallel to the ground the resting position of the head is, the less +G-forces are experienced along the z-axis. The compounding nature of turning the back and neck in an inclined seat, with a heavy helmet, under G-forces, contributes to the majority of pain in this region of the body. Common symptoms of vertebrae pain include: a dull, burning, or sharp pain, and/or muscle tightness or stiffness. Neck and upper and middle back pain coming from overuse, muscle strain, and damage to the ligaments and discs that support the spine can be reduced surgically, by a chiropractor and therapeutically. Performing rejuvenating exercises pre & post-flight that emphasize improving posture & balance, opening up areas in the body that are tight, and correcting musculoskeletal imbalances can mitigate pain and act as a preventative measure for those not affected by these symptoms. The following active recovery circuit can serve as a preliminary, therapeutic guide to reducing pain and prevent pain from forming:
3 goals: -Reduce Muscular Imbalance -Reduce Back & Neck Pain -Fix Poor Posture and Balance ——— Warm-up: 1. Low intensity cardio (jogging/biking/rowing/swimming for 10 minutes) 2. Foam roll upper/lower body (as needed) ——— Restorative Yoga: 1. Crescent Lunge (hold for at least 30 seconds on each side) 2. Half Pigeon Pose (hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side) 3. Thread the Needle Pose (hold for at least 30 seconds on each side) 4. Bridge Pose (hold for 5 breaths then release) 5. Cobra Pose (hold pose 20-30 seconds) 6. Downward Facing Dog Pose (stay in this pose 1-3 minutes) 7. Mariachi Pose (hold for 30 seconds- 1 minute and twist to the other side for equal length of time) ——— Balance Development (2 sets) 1. Bosu Ball/ Indo Balance Holds (as long as possible until failure 3x each leg) 2. Single Leg RDLs (10-12 each leg) 3. Lateral Side Jumps (8 reps each leg) ——— Contrast Therapy: *Cold water immersion with hot water contrast. Can be performed in cold pool, cold shower, or ocean.* 1. Three minutes of ice water, neck-down cold water exposure, immediately followed by one minute of hot water (3 rounds).