BACKGROUND: During maneuvering, fighter pilots experience loads of up to 50-70 kg on their necks. Neck disorders are common and have been linked to impairment in muscle control. We conducted an intervention study introducing targeted training for 24 wk that reduced neck pain. The current study reports the results of the secondary objective, which was to increase the understanding of possible mechanisms underlying such neck pain and its intervention-related relief. METHODS: In a parallel, single-blinded, randomized controlled study, 55 F-16 pilots were evaluated at baseline and randomized to a control group (CG; N = 28) or training group (TG; N = 27). Postural control was tested in four different settings: Romberg with open and closed eyes, unilateral stance, and perturbation. Maximal voluntary contraction and force steadiness was measured for shoulder elevation. RESULTS: At follow-up, there was a significant between-group difference in the Romberg test with closed eyes only (95% confidence ellipse area; CG: 761 +/- 311 mm2; TG: 650 +/- 405 mm2). Prior to randomization, there were no significant differences in postural control and steadiness between 30 pilots who experienced neck pain within the previous 3 mo and 25 pilots without such pain. DISCUSSION: Impaired postural control and steadiness may only be quantifiable in individuals experiencing acute neck pain of certain intensity, and there may be a ceiling effect in the ability to improve these parameters. For individuals with highly developed physiological capacity, a battery of tests with more stringent demands should be considered, e.g., increased number of repetitions, prolonged duration of the tests, or testing with eyes closed.
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 2014, Vol 85, Issue 4, p. 420-5