FORT HOOD, Texas - Physical therapists are the Army's joint mechanics; they're a provider's first line of defense before considering an overhaul by an orthopedic surgeon.

Performing a routine maintenance on the body's joints through strength and cardiovascular training is as vital as a weekly vehicle maintenance inspection at a motor pool. Keeping equipment serviced and functioning properly is part of being combat ready to tackle important missions. Your body is no different.

"We focus on targeted exercise, looking at bio-mechanical factors that might be contributing to the problem and then correcting them through stretching and exercise," said Lt. Col. Daniel Rendeiro, Chief of the Physical Therapy services for the clinic at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and a native of Fallsington, Pa.

Regardless of the injury, physical therapists are armed with several healing options for pain, weakness, joint stiffness, poor balance, and limited function. They're a vital resource to the Army's biggest and most-deployed post. PTs serve all Soldiers, units, and commanders and promoting readiness in garrison and combat theaters with sports medicine in garrison and on the battlefield.

"The main treatment is gentle progressive movement which can help heal musculoskeletal injuries and reduce pain. Stretching is another method we use in relieving pain and produce less compressive force on joints," Rendeiro said.

Every day an average of 250 Soldiers visit the CRDAMC's Physical Therapy clinic. With a little more than 6,000 sq. ft., the clinic has ample space for the large number of patients who visit on a daily basis. It's important to have a referral before visiting the clinic or trying to schedule an appointment. Appropriate attire is also required.
"You must have a referral and you should come prepared to exercise. Your physical training uniform is probably the best option. We do have changing rooms but it's important to have suitable clothing to be examined," Rendeiro said.

Your body requires preventive maintenance to stay healthy and to perform when you need it the most. To make sure services are available to keep Soldiers in top condition, the department has a full time staff of twenty-five members. They serve an active duty beneficiary population of about 53,000 Soldiers.

Services available include musculoskeletal evaluations, therapeutic exercise planning, aquatic therapy, transitional gym training, knee and ankle agility training, lumbar stabilization exercise classes, knee/back education, and in-patient care. Injuries range from overuse to traumatic combat injuries.

"Therapeutic exercises includes both devising home plans so people can do them at the gym, on their own at home, or here in the clinic for supervised treatment," Rendeiro said.

Physical therapy is no longer a passive treatment; it requires active participation. Rendeiro said therapists provide Soldiers with vital tools to help them manage their pain. Soldiers often use pain medications, which are useful for control of symptoms. However, medications often only sooth the pain temporarily, while physical therapy helps with long term healing, he added.

Soldiers are required to perform challenging therapeutic exercises and functional drills in order to be prepared for deployments and daily duties. In the event of an injury, service members can visit the Physical Therapy Clinic at CRDAMC. Treatment for neuromusculoskeletal injuries is available.

Physical therapists are members of the Army's Medical Specialist Corps. They work in medical centers, combat support hospitals, aid stations, and as organic unit providers. Frequently they are asked what a PT does in the Army because it is often assumed they do not deploy and only work in hospitals.

"It's simply not true. PTs have deployed for years. In the past year it became official that all brigade combat teams deploy with at least one PT," said Rendeiro.

Physical therapists wear many hats in the military today, which includes deploying to support troops within a combat theater. Therapists are now assigned to Brigade Combat Teams, Special Forces Groups, Ranger battalions, and basic training medical hold units.

Physical therapy services are also available at the Bennett Clinic located on 31st St. and Battalion Ave. For more information on how physical therapy can help you or your unit, contact Maj. Page Karsteter at (254) 288-8040 or email him at page.karsteter@us.army.mil.

(Editor's note: Capt. Swafford is the Brigade Physical Therapist for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Divison at Fort Hood.)

Page last updated Wed May 6th, 2009 at 17:34