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A famous case of chronic back pain: JFK, part 2

In the first part of this post, we introduced the high-profile case of John F. Kennedy to discuss the broader theme of how chronic back pain can greatly impact someone’s daily life.

As we noted, Kennedy’s public image as a vibrant young president was utterly at odds with the terrible back pain he endured for many years. Such pain is, of course, also a common occurrence in many workplace injury cases.

In this part of the post, let’s look more closely at how Kennedy’s back pain might be addressed today.

In the paper he recently co-authored about Kennedy, Dr. Afton L. Hassett, a psychologist with the University of Michigan Health System argues that the causes of the chronic back pain Kennedy experienced were probably more complex than doctors realized at the time.

Dr. Hasset believes that disc degeneration in JFK’s back is by no means the only causal factor explaining the persistence of his pain. He suggests that central nervous system dysfunction may also have contributed to the intense back pain Kennedy experienced on a daily basis.

Hasset also points to the fact that the symptoms Kennedy exhibited were made significantly worse by stress.

Stress, of course, is something that modern presidents have in abundance. In Kennedy’s case, the Cuban Missile Crisis -- a tense standoff with the Soviet Union over the placement of missiles in Cuba – was an especially large stressor.

Someone with Kennedy’s symptoms today might be subject to narcotic painkillers, just as many workers are after work accidents. Sometimes, however, those painkillers are used in lieu of having anything any other way to address searing back pain that makes daily tasks a constant burden.

Source: University of Michigan Health System, "Reconceptualizing JFK's chronic low back pain," Nov. 26, 2013

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