Physical therapy taking away Soldiers' pain
October 14, 2011
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CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Oct. 14, 2011 -- Many Soldiers suffer from muscle, bone, and joint pain due to a variety of injuries. In some cases, pain medication can be helpful, but only for a short period. There are many long-term benefits Soldiers can gain from physical therapy.
Capt. Alisha Harvey, physical therapy clinic chief with the 47th Combat Support Hospital, manages the physical therapy clinic for service members on Contingency Operating Base Adder.
The small clinic treats around 250 patients a month and consists of two physical therapists and two physical therapy technicians, said Harvey.
While the physical therapists create and manage treatment plans and conduct the primary care to patients, the physical therapy technicians provide essential assistance throughout the process.
"We are a direct access clinic, so anybody can come in and we can evaluate and treat them," said Harvey. "More times than not, the Soldiers that come in here have already been to sick call and then referred to us, but we do have direct access so anybody can come here."
When a patient comes to the clinic, necessary information on the patient's history is gathered and an initial evaluation is conducted.
"A large part of the process is narrowing down the possibilities of what a patient is experiencing," said Harvey. "I check their range of motion, their strength, and make sure their joints are stable. Once the worst is ruled out, then we can concentrate on what is really going on with a patient and set up the appropriate treatment plan."
Many of the Soldiers seen at the clinic suffer from chronic pain.
"I see a lot of chronic muscular-skeletal issues such as shoulder pain and back pain,' said Harvey. "If a patient comes in with back pain, I press on their spine a little bit and see what's moving and what is not moving. At times it comes down to a simple manipulation to make them feel better and relieve the pain."
In some cases, the treatment is similar to visiting a chiropractor.
"If you were to go to a chiropractor and he would crack your back, I do the same thing," said Harvey. "It's just a matter of getting the joints moving. But, the difference for me is after I get you moving, I'm going to teach you some exercises that you can do to keep that motion stable, whereas a chiropractor may or may not do that."
It's not just patients with chronic injuries that are treated at the clinic. Many Soldiers come to the clinic with injuries related to lifting weights.
"When people go to the gym and workout, they generally are working the main, global muscles in their bodies and the smaller, stabilizer muscles get neglected," said Harvey.
It can be as simple as strengthening your core muscles that can help prevent further injuries.
"It's mostly these smaller, stabilizer muscles that are always working," said Harvey. "But when you go to the gym they get overpowered."
Stretching everyday is a great preventative measure.
"That's my real role, to get someone to move better and to be more functional, because when you move well and things work better, then you don't have pain," said Harvey.
The clinic is conducting a study: home physical therapy and it's effects in the deployed environment. The study will look at how patients have responded to a home exercise program during deployment, and the results can be used to improve patient care plans in the future.
"If at all possible, I try to give a home exercise program, but that's not always possible because they may need direct supervision, said Harvey. "If that's the case, I can do hands-on therapy with them. It varies on the patient and the injury, but more times than not I try to give a home exercise program."
"Some exercises are a lifestyle change and not just something you do for a couple weeks and that's it, because the pain is just going to come right back," said Harvey. "With simple exercises done regularly, they can help maintain the affected area and prevent further issues in the future."
The success of the clinic is due to the professionalism of its staff.
Sgt. Daniel J. Simmons, physical therapy technician with the 47th Combat Support Hospital, enjoys his work at the clinic.
"I was a combat medic before this," said Simmons. "My experiences working in the different areas of the medical field and in the hospital, seeing the stages of treatment from initial injury, to surgery, to the rehab process gave me my first hands-on experience with physical therapy rehabilitation."
From his first exposure of seeing patients benefit from physical therapy, Simmons decided to change his focus in the medical field.
"At the time I was working at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany," he said. "Seeing that process motivated me to the field."
Simmons has fit in well at the clinic as part of the physical therapy team.
"These guys do an awesome job," said Harvey. "I can't do it all and a good technician is basically an extension of you."
And the results speak for themselves.
When someone comes to the clinic with back pain so severe that they can't even bend down to pick something up and you treat them, and two days later that person is up and moving again, you see the benefits of the physical therapy, said Harvey.
"The best part of this job is knowing and seeing the difference I can make for Soldiers," said Harvey. "And not just a quick fix, but something that will last."