John F. Kennedy – A Life of Back Pain & Hidden Illness

John F Kennedy - Back Pain Sufferer This post is the first in a series about famous and/or note worthy people that suffer from Back Pain. In our ongoing effort to educate America about back pain and help eliminate it, this series was inspired by a story we spotted on Hub Pages you can read here if you like: Presidents Back Pain Cured

John F. Kennedy’s medical records may shed some light on questions of the president’s character. Reviews of his records in recent years revealed that the president suffered from severe back pain and other numerous ailments, taking as many as eight medications a day to manage them. Kennedy, his aides, and his family kept this information hidden from the public in an attempt to project an image as a strong and powerful figure, in much the same way Franklin D. Roosevelt concealed the severity of his paralysis in the 1930s and 40s.

Kennedy’s back pain and other ailments clearly did not stand in the way of his political ambitions. He used his father’s connections to enlist in the Navy and keep his medical condition concealed from military physicians. While serving on Navy boats in the southwest Pacific, he slept with a plywood board under his mattress for back pain relief. During his 1960 presidential campaign, he was followed everywhere by an aide who carried a bag of “medical support.” Kennedy’s medical records remained closed for years following his death, apparently because his family worried they would tarnish his reputation as an honest political figure.

Due to his many ailments, a man of Kennedy’s health would not be able to survive today’s political climate, writes presidential biographer and New York Times political correspondent Richard Reeves. Kennedy suffered from Addison’s disease, a condition in which the adrenal glands produce insufficient hormones and which required increasing amounts of hydrocortisone and testosterone. Sickly since he was a boy, Kennedy was also frequently ill and suffered from severe fatigue and low weight. He became so ill that he was read the last rites three times in his life. Lifelong abdominal discomfort and fatigue may have been due to celiac disease, which is often associated with Addison’s.

What Was The True Source of Kennedy’s Back Pain

Though his back pain was rumored to have been caused by football injuries and war wounds, according to Reeves, however, those stories were untrue. Some reports indicate that Kennedy suffered from a degenerative disease of the lumbar spine, which caused a difference in the length of his legs, requiring him to wear a back brace and use crutches intermittently. Navy records show evidence of osteoporosis. Reporter Robert Dallek writes that steroid treatments Kennedy received for his intestinal ails as a youth may have contributed to both his Addison’s disease and his back problems. In a December 2002 article in the Atlantic Monthly, Dallek writes that in the 1930s and 40s, physicians did not realize the long-term effects of corticosteroids – specifically the suppression of normal adrenal function and the inducement of osteoporosis in the lower back. X-rays from the early 50s show compression fractures in Kennedy’s lower spine.

Kennedy Underwent High Risk Back Pain Surgery

In 1954, while senator of Massachusetts, Kennedy underwent back surgery, which posed extreme risks due to his Addison’s disease, as his hormone treatments suppressed his immune system. According to Reeves, no one with Addison’s disease had ever previously survived traumatic surgery. But Kennedy said his back pain was so severe, he would rather die than live with the pain. His x-rays revealed that his fifth lumbar vertebra had collapsed, and he had become more dependent on his crutches. He survived the surgery, but was hospitalized for nine months afterward due to a urinary-tract infection and a transfusion reaction.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1955 indicated he would have been incapacitated without the surgery, which consisted of a lumbo sacra fusion together with a sacroiliac fusion. Doctors hoped the fusions would strengthen his lower spine, but due to a possible infection, another operation had to be performed four months later to remove the metal plate that had been inserted into Kennedy’s spine.

The President Continues to Suffer from Back Pain & Other Ailments

The surgeries brought him no back pain relief. Throughout the 50s, Kennedy continued to suffer from his back pain and other ailments, including abdominal discomfort, high fevers, dehydration, high cholesterol, and difficulty sleeping. He could not bend forward or backward at all. Turning over in bed or sitting in a chair posed extreme difficulty. Kennedy continued to hide his condition from the public and denied reports of his Addison’s disease. During his presidency, he was under the regular care of an allergist, an endocrinologist, a gastroenterologist, an orthopedist, a urologist, and an internist/pharmacologist. He received back injections to make less reliant on his crutches, but his medical advisors feared they may be doing more harm than good and that he would eventually end up in a wheelchair.

Regular exercise therapy with an orthopedic surgeon began to ease his back spasms and increase his mobility, but it is unknown how his health issues would have progressed had he lived longer. Kennedy was killed in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald. Some believe that his chronic back problems ultimately contributed to his death:  Kennedy was wearing his back brace when he was shot. The first bullet struck him in the neck, and his back brace held him upright and kept him in the path of Oswald’s second, fatal bullet to the head.

John F. KennedyDeception or Exceptional Character?

Though some have criticized Kennedy for deceiving the public in order to advance his political career, Dallek notes that Kennedy refused to complain about his ailments and exhibited an extraordinary strength of will, enduring unspeakable pain and yet refusing to let his physical ailments interfere with his political duties.

References: John F. Kennedy

“In J.F.K.  File, Hidden Illness, Pain and Pills;” The New York Times

The Health and Medical History of President John Kennedy; Dr. Zebra

“The Medical Ordeals of JFK;” The Atlantic Monthly, December 2002

Karen Eisenbraun is a writer, editor, and Internet marketing professional specializing in the areas of health and wellness. Her writing has appeared on a number of top health websites, including, and she is the Kansas City Yoga Examiner for Visit her web site at

is the founder and CEO of Vacupractor.

9 comments on “John F. Kennedy – A Life of Back Pain & Hidden Illness
  1. Daniel F Maloney says:

    Would have been the greatest President in history if the Bilderburg Group,Sam Giancana,the CIA or whoever had him murdered.
    1.He donated his salary to charity while President and possibly thru-out his career.
    2.Being an Irish American Catholic he was envied and a victim of Racism.
    3.If JFK was our leader now,we would not have tens of millions of INVADERS being
    permitted to destroy the USA.
    4.I met Robert Kennedy and learned then of JFK’s life ruining spine pain,I empathize
    due to my failed cervical,lumbar…diffuse pain.I do not have JFK’s mind control.He was
    my HERO.

  2. Steve Eisenberg says:

    It is a well-known fact that JFK was murdered by the Cigar Lobby, labor unions, the Freemasons, The Winter Hill Gang, the mafia, the FBI, Fair Play For Cuba, The Skull ‘n Bones Club, and the AARP.

  3. Rod McGuire says:

    JFK was one of the greatest people who ever lived. The whole world was cheated with his killing, it truly was the crime of the century. He was my Hero. Australia

  4. Sam Hill says:

    GREAT MAN obviously. About his death, ask who gained most from it and you know who had him killed.

  5. Grace12_34 says:

    I meant I think LBJ benefitted the most from it.

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "John F. Kennedy – A Life of Back Pain & Hidden Illness"
  1. […] This is the 2nd post in our series about famous people with back pain. The first featured John F. Kennedy: […]

  2. […] the 3rd post in our series about famous people with back pain. The first featured John F. Kennedy: and the 2nd featured Hulk Hogan and his story of failed back […]

  3. […] Does anyone realize how easy it would have been to whack JFK?? All someone with power has to do is plant a person posing as a cop and place him in the right area, while the real cops are diverted to different areas and allow the pseudo-cop to set up his his shot then he could just walk away and no one would question why a person in uniform was holding a riffle… This conspiracy unlike most others only requires a few people to be involved.. In 1963 no one would question an officer nor would they cross over a cordoned off area…. The best reason is "why" would someone want Kennedy dead, and the answer to that is simple – because he was highly medicated, delusional and not fit to serve as president. He was obsessed with offing Castro to the point of committing a domestic act of terrorism.. Not to mention the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Which leads me to another point… What the hell was the USSR thinking when they attempted to move nukes to Cuba when JFK was obsessed with Cuba and Castro? Apparently they weren't in the loop with how obsessed Kennedy was…. I mean Kennedy only went as far as to devise a plan to make Castros beard fall off via poison believing if Castros beard fell off the people of Cuba would reject him.. Does that sound rational? if you can get close enough to poison him to make his beard fall off why not just poison and kill him?? You see this is why he was offed by the government…. The guy was only on drugs 24-7 and making nutty decisions.. John F. Kennedy – A Life of Back Pain & Hidden Illness | VacuPractor Back Pain Relief Device […]

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