Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University


Introduction: Neck pain (NP) and low back pain (LBP) are prevalent among military helicopter pilots. Although there have been few studies on sex differences in the NP/LBP prevalence in this population, females are shown to be at a greater risk of NP/LBP in civilian studies. This disparity may be due to musculoskeletal characteristics differences that predispose females for NP/LBP. The purpose of this study was to compare cervical and trunk musculoskeletal characteristics between male and female pilots. Methods: A total of 8 female pilots (Age: 27.6 ± 4.2yrs, HT: 166.1 ± 7.7cm, WT: 67.9 ± 10.6kg) were tested, and they were matched (1:1 matching ratio) with male pilots (Age: 27.8 ± 4.2yrs, HT: 175.0 ± 6.8cm, WT: 79.5 ± 5.8kg), based on age (± three years) and flight experience (± two years). Cervical/trunk strength and flexibility were tested using the hand-held/isokinetic dynamometer and inclinometers, respectively. Strength values were normalized to body weight for analyses. Paired t-tests or Wilcoxon Signed Rank tests were used to examine sex differences across all variables (p < 0.05). Results: Female pilots had significantly lower cervical flexion strength, trunk flexion strength, and trunk rotation strength (p < 0.05). For flexibility measures, female pilots had significantly greater cervical rotation flexibility (p < 0.05). No significant differences were observed in the lumbar spine flexibility. Discussion/Conclusion: The current preliminary study found sex differences in cervical and trunk musculoskeletal characteristics in Army helicopter pilots. Continued efforts are warranted to explore sex-specific intervention strategy and its effectiveness in reducing the NP/LBP prevalence among military helicopter pilots.