Madigan researchers are currently testing the flexibility and coordination of 1,500 Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldiers as part of a study targeted at predicting musculoskeletal injuries.
The Military Power, Performance and Prevention study, known as MP3, mirrors performance testing presently conducted by many professional and college athletic teams designed to help decrease the risk of injuries in athletes.
"The focus of this study is to attempt to understand how we can predict the injuries, or at least who is more susceptible to get an injury," said Maj. Dan Rhon, Madigan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service Clinic and local MP3 study administrator.
This information is valuable as the military loses around $550 million each year in direct patient care costs for non-combat musculoskeletal injuries alone, said Rhon, who is board certified in orthopaedic physical therapy (disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system). These injuries impact 900,000 service members each year -- approximately 25 million limited duty days.
While the protocol for treatment of these issues varies greatly among injury type and body part, by getting in front of the injuries the study team hopes to improve readiness by keeping the Soldier "athletes" healthy and available for deployments.
MP3 testing started on JBLM this summer. To kick things off, participating Soldiers, who were healthy and free from injuries that would prevent them from normal activities, and physical or regular training, began performing a series of physical tests in base fitness centers.
"There are multiple stations that look at balance, power, strength, coordination, flexibility, as well as some subjective questionnaires that ask about things like previous injuries," said Rhon. "It takes a little over an hour to put one Soldier through all the tests, but we can usually do 30 or 40 at one time."
In addition to these baseline tests, participants are also asked to take a monthly survey outlining new injuries or any reason they may have sought health care since their initial entrance into the study.
"We need to be able to determine which Soldiers become injured during the following year," said Rhon. "What we will do is look for patterns and similarities in those who get injured compared to those who don't."
For example, if a Soldier who later injured their ankle scored significantly different on certain baseline tests than those who did not, factors could be drawn from that information that could be used to predict injury.
"… the ultimate goal is to find a way to prevent injuries before they exits," said Lt. Col. Deydre Teyhen, director of the Center for Physical Therapy Research and chairwoman of the Graduate School Research Council at the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston. "The MP3 screening tool is designed to identify those at highest risk for injury so we can do just that."
In the future, testers hope to classify different risk stratification where Soldiers may be identified in different categories. Various interventions would then be targeted to the Soldier based on the nature and level of the risk.
Rhon envisions a day when every Soldier would go through this screening procedure as part of processing into their new unit.
"Commanders could then have a good idea as to the injury risk that is prevalent in their unit, and potentially even modify or adjust physical training to address these issues," he said. "In the long run it may help us better manage this tremendous problem we have, and improve manpower for commanders and overall health for individual Soldiers. "