The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Post-Traumatic Bone Loss in Civil War Soldiers


1Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, 2Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution

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The relationship between bone density and physical activity is important to biological anthropologists interested in reconstructing past life ways. This study compares femur density of modern American white males to their 19th century counterparts, and evaluates the effects of immobilization on bone density in traumatically injured Civil War soldiers. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry was used to measure femoral neck densities in contemporary males aged 18 to 40 years (n=58), 19th-century male civilians (n=11), Civil War soldiers who lived less than 15 days after receiving mortal injuries (n=30), and Civil War soldiers who lived longer than 15 days after injury (n=54). The greatest time interval between injury and death was 575 days. The samples come from reference collections maintained by the University of Tennessee, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Our results show that bone densities of 19th century civilians, 19th-century soldiers who lived less than 15 days after injury, and modern males are not significantly different. Linear regression analysis shows a significant inverse relationship between length of immobilizing injury and bone density (r = -0.37). The negative correlation reflects decreasing femur density over time with loss of weight-bearing activity and declining health. This evaluation of the rate of bone loss leading to osteopenia presents a sample-based comparison that measures the effect of severe trauma and immobility on bone density.

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