Unknown too many people, one of our most famous Presidents suffered from chronic back pain. John F. Kennedy (JFK) was the second youngest President to serve the Oval office but was under chronic treatment for his low back issues which included four back surgeries.

Recently the Journal of Neurosurgery Spine; published a review of JFK’s medical records and surgeries from 1944 thru 1957. The authors Pait & Dowdy detail the surgeries which include discectomy and fusion with instrumentation. Unfortunately, none of these surgeries helped and his last operative treatment was a washout for a spine infection.

JFK first experienced low back pain (LBP) in college while playing football. He went on to serve in the Naval Reserve as a U boat captain on PT 109. After being rammed by a Japanese Destroyer in 1943, JFK saves a fellow crewman by keeping him afloat for 5 hours. This act of heroism may have irritated his back issues because he undergoes his first back surgery in 1944.

Until his assassination in 1963, the President was treated for chronic LBP with medications, trigger point medications and topical creams. In fact, JFK was a faithful back brace user. Interestingly, after becoming President, JFK implemented an exercise program to include weights and swimming as well as massage treatment which apparently helped decrease his symptoms. Unfortunately, the President would never give up his brace.

There is some speculation that his back brace may have contributed to his death by keeping him upright after being shot by Lee Harvey Oswald. This brace may have prevented him from slumping forward, which allowed Oswald to get a second shot off which struck the President’s head.

Paul Saiz, MD

Diplomate of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery
Diplomate of the American Board of Spine Surgery
Spine Physician for New Mexico State University