Health of the Force: Action teams promote injury prevention for trainees
January 23, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Jan. 23, 2013) -- If injuries can be prevented early on in basic training, it will create a healthier force for tomorrow. That's the idea behind a two-year pilot program under way on Fort Benning.
Since April 2011, Musculoskeletal Action Teams, or MATs, have been embedded in the 194th Armored Brigade and the 198th Infantry Brigade. The teams conduct injury screenings and evaluations, offer guidelines on how to avoid injuries and show trainees proper physical readiness training techniques.
"The concept of the teams was initially developed from the Surgeon General's Office in coordination with TRADOC," said Maj. Chong Ko, MAT leader for the 194th Armored Brigade.
"We are embedded to the training brigades so they have the opportunity to be seen at their unit. We're there to detect injuries early on, to give them management skills and strategy, so that hopefully that injury doesn't become serious enough that they could potentially miss training."
Each brigade has its own MAT. Teams consist of two physical therapists, two physical therapy technicians, four athletic trainers and four strength-conditioning coaches. While the teams remain flexible to adapt to the needs of their respective units, their mission remains the same.
"We have adopted a one-team concept with the Fort Benning MAT teams," said Staff Sgt. William Carter, co-leader for the 198th Infantry Brigade's MAT. "We want the same type of briefings that are given at the 194th. We are working together to create one type of nutrition briefing, one type of injury prevention briefing."
The teams operate under the tenets of three main principles: injury prevention, precision PRT and human performance optimization.
Ko gave examples of each in the Armor unit.
"Before the trainee even comes down to our area of operation, we're seeing them at the reception battalion to do an initial screening to make sure trainees buy appropriate running shoes," he said.
For trainees with no or low arches, the action team issues boot inserts, he said.
Precision PRT is addressed through question-and-answer sessions with MAT members and drill sergeants covering common exercise mistakes that could lead to trainee injury.
For human performance optimization, team members conduct briefings on subjects like nutrition and individual exercises that help ward off injury.
One of the preventative measures in place at the 198th is a functional screening before Soldiers begin training. Conducted by a strength-conditioning coach, athletic trainer and physical therapist, the screening can help identify health areas of concern for the Soldier that may have previously been overlooked, Carter said.
Carter also said all Soldiers with musculoskeletal injuries report directly to the MAT to see if the problems can be addressed there before going to sick call.
In all of these efforts, the key is minimizing the impact of injury on a Soldier's health and training -- either through completely avoiding the injury, detecting it early or managing it properly to promote fast recovery -- but their impact extends beyond basic training.
"I believe our teams provide a very valuable set of information to encourage our young Soldiers to live a more active and healthier lifestyle," Ko said. "We encourage each Soldier in training to believe that in fact they are Soldier Athletes, and they must take full ownership of their overall fitness by being more aware and concerned about performance optimization in terms of practicing injury prevention strategies, proper nutrition and performing precision PRT.
"In that case, we are maximizing their potential. This Soldier will be more combat ready. They won't have to rely on local medical treatment facilities for care because they are equipped with preventative strategies and techniques. As they continue to move on with their military career, they have the tools necessary to live a healthier lifestyle. So we're being extremely proactive versus constantly being reactive."
Carter said he believes the teams have been effective so far with their respective training populations.
"By investing in the Soldiers early in their careers, we're teaching them about healthy living," he said. "We're teaching them about simple things like flexibility and range of motion, teaching those things about strengthening. (That) will help them later on as they become more mature Soldiers to have less health care issues. This program, in my opinion, is definitely the way we should go."
Slated for completion in April, the pilot is also being conducted at Fort Sill, Okla., Fort Lee, Va., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The next step is evaluating findings, Ko said, after which the Office of the Surgeon General will make a decision on how to proceed.
"We believe 100 percent in this mission," Ko said. "We are passionate about taking care of Soldiers -- and taking care of Soldiers early on in their military careers. We need to do that early as much as possible so we can have a healthier force in the future."