- JFK Library
- Newly released records suggest that former President John F. Kennedy was wearing a back brace that may have aided his assassination.
- Doctors believe Kennedy’s back brace largely immobilized his torso, preventing him from collapsing to the floor of the car in which he was shot, which allowed him to be shot, fatally, in the head.
Newly released records suggest that former President John F. Kennedy was wearing a back brace that may have aided his assassination in Dallas, Texas in November 1963.
Kennedy, who faced myriad health issues, including scarlet fever and collitis as a child, suffered from chronic and severe back pain as an adult.
His back issues began after he was tackled while playing football in college at Harvard, and they were exacerbated by his years in the Navy. He also had surgeries in his 30s and 40s. Kennedy wore a back brace for much of his adult life to help make up for his weak muscles.
One spinal surgery in 1954 nearly killed the then-senator, who became reliant on routine injections of numbing agents and amphetamine-based pain killers, which were thought to have some methamphetamine in them.
By the end of 1961, as concern about Kennedy’s reliance on the injections grew, the White House physician brought in a new doctor to manage Kennedy’s pain, Dr. Hans Kraus, known today as the father of sports medicine, who put Kennedy on a strict weight-lifting, swimming, and strength-training regimen. The new strategy relieved much of Kennedy’s chronic pain and helped wean him off the pain killers.
But in August 1963, the president strained his back and began using the brace again, despite his doctor’s advice. The president was wearing the brace as he rode in the back of an open-top car in a parade in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
“Kennedy said to Kraus, ‘Look, I tell you what, when I come back from Dallas, I’ll get out of the brace, but I gotta wear it for this trip. I gotta look good.’ He wanted to be able to sit up tall and wave at people,” Dr. Thomas Pait, a spinal neurosurgeon who co-authored a paper about the former president’s back issues, told CNN. “And of course, we’ll never know if he would have survived if he’d followed the doctor’s advice and gotten rid of it.”
Pait believes the back brace largely immobilized Kennedy’s torso, preventing him from collapsing to the floor of the car after he suffered the first shot to his neck. It was the second shot, to Kennedy’s head, that killed him.
“The brace was a firmly bound corset, around his hips and lower back and higher up,” Pait said. “He tightly laced it and put a wide Ace bandage around in a figure eight around his trunk. If you think about it, if you have that brace all the way up your chest, above your nipples, and real tight, are you going to be able to bend forward?”