Popular Science

Why doctors are still studying JFK’s chronic back pain

Did his back trouble help kill him?

John F. Kennedy on February 20, 1961.

Public domain.

John F. Kennedy was known for his youth and energy, but in the decades since his death we’ve realized that there was more to the story: The 35th President of the United States actually battled an impressive collection of medical problems. Among these was agonizing back pain that led Kennedy to undertake four surgeries.

“This pain affected him nearly continually from his undergraduate years at Harvard until the day of his assassination,” a pair of physicians wrote earlier this month in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. They have examined Kennedy’s medical records to create a detailed report of the youngest elected President’s pain and how it shaped his career—and possibly even his death in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

It’s not clear what exactly was awry, and it's likely that multiple problems were at play. “The imaging studies they used were very primitive,” says

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