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Old 24th Dec 2007, 09:42   #1 (permalink)
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Danger Helicopter Pilot Back Problems

As the years go by I am having increasing back problems. MRI scans have shown that I am suffering from Spondylosis and that the intervertebral discs are dried out. I was wondering if there is a possibility that this has been aggrevated by flying helicopters, or is just because I'm a knackered old shit?

Do any other drivers have similar problems?
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 10:56   #2 (permalink)
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Jip, its a known association, any helicopter pilot with more than 1000 hours is likely to have some form of back problem, due to the maintained rotated posture of the upper body. Sitting slightly forward and rotated to the left, due to the right hand on the cyclic and the left on the collective, as well as the assymmetry of the pedal inputs, apparently places unusual strain on the lower back, especially in those individuals who are not physically active. With age, lower back problems become increasingly common anyway, spondylosis and disc pathology in particular. Continued postural aggravation like in a helicopter may very well worsen things. Hope there are some orthopods out there to comment?


Last edited by rockpecker; 24th Dec 2007 at 12:14.
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 12:26   #3 (permalink)
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Back to backs

Hi Aviator,

I expect it's just because you're a knackered old fart like so many of us. Seriously, though, it is a common problem for helicopter jockeys.

My back started to play up about 10 years ago when I jumped a ditch with a golf bag on my back! Forgot I wasn't twenty five any more.

These days, when I feel it's about to give me problems, I hang myself up by my feet for as long as I can bear it. [For those PPruners with prurient imaginations I remain fully clothed throughout]. It allows the vertabrae to re-allign as well as to let the discs to, as it were, reinflate with fluid a bit.

This practice was recommended to me by a superb back specialist who I see when the above is insufficient.

You can buy a frame designed to facilitate getting upside down but I made my own, you do need something to ease you into the right position.

Uncle Ian
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 12:45   #4 (permalink)
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he1Aviator: I concur with rockpecker, I too suffer the occasional back problem - or rather used to. I seem to have less trouble now on average however, protracted flight in turbulent conditions does seem to aggravate any weakness. I paid an awful lot of money some years ago, to get a consultant to give me a once over though I considered being ripped off at the time, I now begin to think I was not.

1. Remove yer wallet to the breast pocket. The bulk on the upper buttock acts as a lever and assists bad posture. [really!]
2. How you plant yer arse in the seat has a direct bearing. Make sure the buttocks are fully in the right angle of the seat with the upper body canted forwards before placing the upper body upright.
3. Ensure flight suit is not too tight around the bum. Sacrifice looking cool for a more roomy fit to ensure adequate blood flow.
4. Quit smoking, smoking has the effect of drying out the liquids around the spine [dunno the technical term] the effect can be seen on MRI scans compared between smokers and non-smokers.
5. When fastening harness and if the harness mounting is lower than the nape of the neck, tighten before engaging inertia reel lock. There is a tendency for people to 'pull' themselves down into the seat otherwise, thus promoting bad posture.
6. Do lower abdomen strengthening exercises.
7. Do not accept aircraft that have a high level of vibration. Not easy I know but the body has a way of responding to every movement imperceptibly and without conscious effort. This tires muscles and leaves you weaker when trying to cope with something more arduous.

Very often it is the physical activity we engage in outside of but related to the cockpit that causes lower back stress. Even if un noticeable, the weakness can be made worse by all of the above to a point where it becomes a problem.

Best Wishes
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 12:54   #5 (permalink)
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Hello aviator,

I too am a knackered old fart and an old lower back injury from military days more than 30 years ago, plus an old neck injury, combined with the cumulative years spent in poorly designed helicopter seats means that I too suffer from cervical and lumbar Spondylosis. I usually find that it is considerably worse after long journeys to and from home to Africa, lugging around suitcases and flight-bags and for that reason I never buy a bag without wheels these days. When flying I always use a proper orthopaedic lower back support, but sometimes if this isn't enough I look something like a follower of Madame Whiplash as I strap myself into a weightlifter's lower back corset in the morning . Occasionally if it really gets bad I visit the doctor. Usually a few days of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers works (I find Lodeine especially good), but sometimes I have to visit the osteopath for a few days. The only thing I have found is that it's never going to go away. I just hope that when I finally have to give up flying my spine will be less troublesome.
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 14:23   #6 (permalink)
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Rally car and F1 drivers have seat insets moulded to the shape of their back.
Ive watched it being done and reckon the procedure would work for heli seats in say AS350s and Bell206s.

Has anyone explored if helicopter custom seat cushions would aide both comfort and assist in the event of a heavy landing accident?

What would you pay?

Does a change of cushion need minor mod certification?

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Old 24th Dec 2007, 15:30   #7 (permalink)
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I bet you guys dont possess a back with magical powers like mine.......

Always gives me advance warning of impending crap weather
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 15:47   #8 (permalink)
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Hi Aviator,

I am currently grounded due to back problems. A large part of my problem is occupational (Dentist) due to my appalling work posture plus spondylosis and degenerative disc disease.

The disc finally went pop and was removed in September. My Surgeon reckons that the vibration involved with rotary flight is a contributory factor.

I currently have significant inflammation within the vertebral bones caused by the discs being crushed into the marrow through the bone end plates. These are termed Modic type1 lesions and he reckons that vibration aggravates these greatly. They cause a lot of pain. I have flown as a passenger for about 10 minutes. It put me flat on my back for a day afterwards.

I dont know if I will ever fly again and I may be forced to give up work if it doesn't improve.

Look after your back.

A couple of my MRI pictures are bizarrely posted on Peter R-Blackburn's Chickenhawk book thread.

Last edited by Gaseous; 24th Dec 2007 at 16:49. Reason: spelling
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 16:08   #9 (permalink)
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The answer to your prayers..I know many who use them and swear by them, I persoanlly have never tried one however.

Oregon Aero Seat Cushions
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 17:39   #10 (permalink)
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We have 4 people in our unit who are suffering or have suffered from back problems.

The office furniture don't help when spending a lot of time in them fortunately ours have just been replaced.
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 17:44   #11 (permalink)

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I bet you guys dont possess a back with magical powers like mine.......Always gives me advance warning of impending crap weather
Yes me too. My knee provides a backup function, it makes an audible cracking noise going upstairs in cold weather.

I also had an increasingly severe back problem whilst instructing on the Gazelle, so I visited a chiropracter. He checked me over (without having asked my personal history or occupation) and announced: "Hmmm.... are you a helicopter pilot, by any chance?"

Unfortunately it has traditionally gone with the job. The Puma HC1 originally had a seat cushion with stuffing about 25mm thick (usually compressed to half that) before they put in the bum-shaped PSP with a nice lambswool cover. Also, the shoulder harness reel was located at the top of the half-height seat back; pulling on the straps crunched you up into something resembling the penthouse occupant of Notre Dame cathedral, rather than offering much torso forward restraint.

Use of heavy PNG and later NVG and the lead counterweight didn't help either.

No wonder many of us are now slouching cripples in later years.
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 18:27   #12 (permalink)
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No wonder many of us are now slouching cripples in later years.

Mrs Mustard doesnt think Helicopters played a part in that dept i`m afraid
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 19:48   #13 (permalink)
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Another seat cushion option:

I do not use the aviation specific model, I chose instead the 4" thick version designed for people in wheel chairs.

I have spent the majority of my approx. 10,000 hours flight time doing long- line (vertical reference for those that are not familiar) work and I must say that this cushion saves my back like nothing else I have tried. I only wish I would have found it 15 years ago.

I only inflate it about half way (say about 2.5 inches) but the 4" model is tall enough so that as I lean out the bubble the cushion squishes down on one side and raises on the other, in effect tilting the seat for me while still providing full support across both sides of my butt. What actually happens is air transfers from cell to cell inside the seat, deflating one side and transferring the air to the other side. When I leave the bubble window and move back inside to an upright position the seat levels out in about 5 seconds giving me a comfy level seat.

For a pilot that does not do vertical reference work the 2" thick cushion would be perfect. For the wheel chair specific models you can get them in any size you want...just measure the seat in your machine to see what size you need. There are TONS of sellers of this product on Ebay. Just type in "Roho" in a search.

Think about it.....this technology was designed specifically for people that are sitting in wheel chairs all day every day..and it works!
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 20:49   #14 (permalink)
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I did used to get a lot of back pain by the end of the working week but i now have a radox bath every night and go to the gym on a regular basis and now i have no problems at all.
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Old 24th Dec 2007, 23:52   #15 (permalink)
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I hurt my back at a previous job, manual labour while putting myself though fight school... I've always had a worry that in the long run it may make flying difficult, driving was particularily painful after long periods, so I invested in a backpillow with excellent lumbar support... Well worth the money and the occasional odd glances I get from other pilots. After long cross country flights where I walk away feeling normal, vs. my co-pilot / student / passenger who has a 'normal' back walking away with pain... well its worth the odd glances or comments of 'old man' on occasion.

I would echo the previous suggestions, get your wallet out of your back pocket, go to a back specialist and see what products they recomend for you, find something that fits your particular helicopter and use it for every flight, also invest in a seperate pillow for your car, it will make a huge difference.
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Old 25th Dec 2007, 00:51   #16 (permalink)
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My chiropractor says that using an inversion device is a great idea, and will pay for itself very quickly.
5 to 10 minutes per day is all you need to keep a lot of problems away.
I also got a wonderful back support - but it's at home in Philly, and I'm in Calgary, so I'll have to wait till I get back to get the name onto the thread.
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Old 25th Dec 2007, 01:38   #17 (permalink)
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I agree with all of those sentiments. I have very cleverly managed to damage my spine somewhat regularly, only once in a helicopter though.

Galloping a horse with the hat brim down way too low to see an offending thick tree bough was one not very smart trick, and of course the old water ski **se-up at a million miles an hour, another.
I Recently got to a stage where driving a vehicle was way too painful and preferred to stand in the back instead. I got a picture of my spine taken whilst in suburbia recently, not a pretty sight.

My sister is a practising physio, so she gives a good tune-up every now and then, the verbal type I mean. Yes sis, plenty of stretch excercises if you missed the point in the safety article.
Your medical article from the flight safety site is a good one. With regard to nutrition we cook a fair bit of bone broth, for the calcium input - add a dash of vinegar to help the extrusion process.
Read about all that and other good tips in Sally Fallon's book "Nourishing Traditions".
Another book that Mrs tet just pointed me too was on the http://www.bodychoice.com.au/ website - go to books - "performance without pain". she was intending to buy a copy. It's written with the athlete in mind I think.

Glucosamine 1000 tabs, one per day is a helpful healing, or something, agent. apparantly used in oldies homes. Glutamine 500 mg tabs is another, at two per day.

After ten hour days strapped to a Bell 47 standing up was a real worry, especially the 900 series xmons with the extra palnetary gears, they really gave it to you and made your back tingle still well after the first six cans or so.

Modifying a R22 seat would need a part 135 STC as there is no room for cushions. One's head is already nearly bouncing off the roof. I like those air cushion turnouts, maybe we could get Frank to fit 'em as stock standard.

I wonder what sort of vertical loads would they be able to be certified for?

I always thought that the pen name, 'dammyneckhurts' was a brilliant piece of satire, with a large dash of realism.

I agree about the 'pull the wallet out' trick, shake a good few of the moths out of it. It won't hurt at all.
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Old 25th Dec 2007, 03:14   #18 (permalink)
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Bell Helicopters is a bigger crippler than Polio. I firmly believe the seat design engineer's wife ran off with a helicopter pilot years ago and he is still getting even for that.
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Old 26th Dec 2007, 05:02   #19 (permalink)
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Bell is pretty bad, of course, but none are good. The S76 seat becomes torture after a few hours. There is never enough thigh support, and the angle of the seat makes my back hurt. I end up with an aching back in every model I've ever flown. Fortunately, it has never been permanent, and after almost 40 years my back is still in decent shape for the shape it's in. I've never had any permanent pain, just the ache that goes away after getting out of that &%$#*& seat. The worst I ever sat in was the TH13 (Bell 47), but the 206BII wasn't far behind. The designers do all the design work on getting everything working, and then realize they have to put in seats for the pilot(s) and passengers, so they seem like an afterthought, not something actually ergonomically designed, or even designed at all. A cheap car has seats that are comfortable for hours on end, and which don't get leaked on in rain. Multimillion dollar helicopters have crap for seats, and leak gallons of water. Go figure.

One thing that has helped me immensely is a Relax-o-Back seat. It looks like a farm tractor seat, and I get kidded about my John Deere seat, but it's really very comfortable, and lets me endure for much longer than I could without it. Having a space for the tailbone makes all the difference, IMO. It's a cheap, and easy-to-carry, solution.
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Old 26th Dec 2007, 06:04   #20 (permalink)
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Unfortunately the german workers' compensation board (i don't know if there is a comparable in the other countries), with a compulsary membership for all workers, exclusive responsible for occupational diseases/occupational accidents,

have found out, after a lot of intensive studies on the highest science level:

There is no context between helicopterflying and back problems!

Also there is no context between helicopterflying and hardness of hearing, because pilots do allways wear their headsets.

But Dr Germany found a linkage between hardness of hearing and a to high radio level with a probability of 10%. Wow!

The compensation board is to forget for diseases, but in case of an accident there is no better insurance in Germany.
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