By Capt. Sara M. WendlandOctober 2, 2006
October is National Physical Therapy Month. This month celebrates the pioneers of the profession as well as current physical therapists and the patients whose lives they change.
A physical therapist is a professional who evaluates and treats a variety of diseases, conditions and injuries.
Physical therapists have a long, rich history, largely developed in the U.S. Army. In 1917, the Army Surgeon General's office established the Division of Special Hospitals and Physical Reconstruction in which sick and wounded Soldiers from WWI were treated. In 1918, Mary McMillan, the Army's first physical therapist, was assigned the head of reconstruction aides at Walter Reed Hospital. In 1919, 748 physical therapy aides were assigned to Army hospitals in the US and overseas. That same year, Mary McMillan composed the first physical therapy text "Massage and Therapeutic Exercise." Later, in 1921, McMillan founded the American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association, serving as its first president. In 1928, the first eleven students graduated from the Physical Therapy Training Program at Walter Reed General Hospital.
1944 brought the legislation providing commissioned status for physical therapists. By 1945, 1,300 physical therapy officers served in the Army.
In 1955, the Women's Medical Specialist Corps was re-titled the Army Medical Specialist Corps and the black "W" over the silver caduceus was changed to an "S" over a gold caduceus, the same insignia that is worn today.
In 1966, Ma. Barbara Gray was the first physical therapist and Army Medical Specialist Corps officer to be assigned to an active combat zone, the 17th Field Hospital in Saigon. She later completed a staff study for the Surgeon General, demonstrating the requirements for PT's in army surgical, field and evacuation hospitals.
Following the Vietnam War, the Army was short Orthopedic Surgeons, with no shortening of patients. Physical Therapists were given privileges to practice as "physician extenders," allowing them to treat patients with muscle and joint injuries without a physician referral.
In 1971, the Army joined with Baylor University to provide Master's level coursework in physical therapy. Today, the Army Baylor program graduates Doctors of Physical Therapy into the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service.
As physician extenders, military physical therapists can order MRI's, x-rays, order some medications, unlike a civilian PT. Our therapists are being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to provide good care faster to our deployed soldiers.
At Weed Army Community Hospital, the PT clinic is currently using an ultrasound machine (like a baby ultrasound) to view muscles of the abdomen to help patients with low back pain. This type of evaluation provides feedback to the patient and therapist that exercises are being done properly. The clinic also has a custom foot orthotic program that provides high quality orthotics to our soldiers without having to leave Fort Irwin. These orthotics allow some patients with chronic knee pain, back pain and other problems to avoid medical boards and sometimes even surgery. "I'm honored to support our fighting forces and thrilled that we can offer these services," says CPT Amy Lyyski, OIC of the Weed Army Community Hospital Physical Therapy Clinic.
In addition to these special programs, we still offer physical therapy evaluations and treatments to soldiers and dependents. Based on the physical therapists evaluation, treatments used in our clinic include exercise therapy, hands-on therapy, or movements of joints and muscles, sometimes including manipulations of joints.
The clinic currently has two reservists activated to assist the active duty staff. One of these reservists, Sgt. Angulo, is an Occupational Therapy Technician from the 229th U.S. Army Hospital in Virginia. Angulo is trained to work with especially with hands and return patients to their normal daily activities. I am a Physical Therapist activated from the 405th Combat Support Hospital in Connecticut.
With the return of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the physical therapy department moved the clinic to the Chuckwalla gym to provide immediate care to the injured soldiers. Therapists also provided care directly at the 11th ACR aid station to get care to soldiers faster. To continually bring care to the soldiers, the therapists and technicians provide injury prevention classes to Fort Irwin units.
The Physical Therapy Department remains active in the Fort Irwin community. Each year the department sets up a booth at the post CAIR fair, offering patients advice on low back pain, running shoe selection and other physical therapy issues. The therapists provide education sessions to the walking group sponsored by the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity. At these sessions, therapists offer advice on injury prevention and shoe wear selection.
The Weed Army Community Hospital Physical Therapy department wants to help you. Units may contact the clinic if they would like injury prevention briefs for their Soldiers. If you feel like you need the care of a physical therapist, talk to your primary care provider. For more information, please contact the clinic officer-in-charge, Capt. Amy Lyyski at 380-6862.