JFK: A History of Back Pain

David Donald

Looking at photos and films documenting John F. Kennedy’s life, you would never guess he had debilitating lower back pain.

Throughout his life Kennedy would battle back pain and undergo several back surgeries while serving as a congressman, senator and president.

It was his lower back pain that may have, ultimately, contributed to his untimely death in 1963, according to experts.

Below is a timeline detailing Kennedy’s bout with back pain as well as some highlights from his political career.

Early Life


During his sophomore year at Harvard University, Kennedy reportedly suffers a spinal injury while playing football. This is the first of many incidents that would contribute to a lifetime battle with back pain.

Dr. Gilbert “Ned” Haggart, an orthopedic spine specialist at the Lahey Clinic in Boston, diagnoses Kennedy with a “very unstable” lumbosacral joint. He recommends conservative treatment by manipulating the back under anesthesia. Dr. Haggart also suggests sacroiliac Fusion if conservative treatment fails.

Kennedy attempts to join the Army but fails to pass the physical because of his lower back pain.

U.S. Navy Reserve (1941-1945)


On September 24,  with the help of director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, Kennedy joins the United States Naval Reserve.

He was commissioned an ensign and joined the staff of the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. on October 26.

Kennedy attends Naval Reserve Officer Training school at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL and then voluntarily enters the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center in Melville Rhode Island. He is given his first command on December 7.

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