Physical therapists: Army’s injury experts
Capt. Coy Judd,
WBAMC Physical Therapy Department:
The U.S. Army isn’t just going through the motions in celebrating National Physical Therapy Month. Supporting career fields that test the extremes of the human body’s capabilities, the Army has always had a strong association with the field of physical therapy.
Physical therapy in the United States can be traced back to the U.S. Army in 1914. Army Surgeon General William C. Gorgas established the use of “reconstruction aides” to help treat the devastating injuries experienced by the servicemen of World War I.
Today, Army physical therapists graduate with doctoral degrees in physical therapy and are considered subject matter experts in musculoskeletal injury, human performance optimization and injury prevention and assignment. The American Physical Therapy Association – which has charter members who were “reconstruction aides” – sets aside October to celebrate Physical Therapy Month and promotes the impact it has made on the nation.
This month the William Beaumont Army Medical Center’s Physical Therapy Department will host an open house Oct. 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Spc. Hugo V. Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center, off of SSG Sims Road at East Fort Bliss.
In 1994, following a stress-fracture epidemic in training units at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the Army’s medical community began to recognize physical therapists as the Army’s injury experts.
Physical therapists developed sports medicine-based physical training programs for “Soldier athletes” that greatly reduced injury rates while increasing Soldier performance and troop deployability. This success resulted in a shift in how the Army used physical therapists.
In 1997 physical therapists were directly assigned to Ranger battalions and Special Forces groups. Following a trial period, it was found that the addition of physical therapists greatly reduced the number of injury days per Soldier and contributed to an increase in overall unit combat readiness.
Army physical therapists have continued to redefine Army rehabilitation doctrine by becoming physician extenders, evaluating and treating neuromusculoskeletal patients without physician referral. Physical therapists have expanded their capabilities to assist in an ever-changing battlefield, as well as peace-keeping and humanitarian aid missions.
It is the goal of the Army physical therapist to provide evidence-based, sports medicine on the battlefield to the Soldier athlete. Where the military deploys, so too do Army physical therapists.
Prior to 2003, most Army physical therapists were confined to fixed medical facilities located in rear areas. Since 2003, Army physical therapists have been forward deployed with brigade combat teams and have provided physical therapy wherever Soldiers are located. Now each BCT has a physical therapist that provides frontline musculoskeletal care, injury prevention and human performance optimization to the Soldier athlete.
Repeated deployments have allowed Army physical therapists to continue to expand their field capabilities. In Afghanistan, physical therapists now provide triage and direct medical care during mass casualty events in combat environments.
Physical therapists assist in treating injured Soldiers in aid stations, forward operating bases and often travel to remote outposts to treat Soldiers who would not otherwise have access to physical therapy. This care has allowed injured Soldiers to remain in the area of operations and continue to contribute to the fight.
Physical therapists have demonstrated their effectiveness and have been instrumental in lowering the percentage of unnecessary medical evacuations out of theater in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Physical therapists are also instrumental in the care and rehabilitation of our wounded warriors returning from deployment with severe injuries including multiple amputations and traumatic brain injuries. With the help of physical therapy, wounded warriors can reach their maximal possible function levels and return to the highest possible quality of life. Some of these seriously injured warriors choose to remain on active duty and many have returned to their previous duty positions.
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