CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq (Army News Service, May 22, 2008) - Army physical therapists work to alleviate pain brought on by day-to-day and combat activities occurring in Iraq, treating Soldiers similarly to professional athletes.

It's not a game, it's combat. Yet many of the physical tolls that professional athletes face are mirrored in professional Soldiers. Pulled muscles, back pains and sprains are just a few injuries that Soldiers face while conducting day to day operations in Iraq.

Enter the Army physical therapist. A mobile, hands-on medical professional, who works with Soldiers to alleviate neuromusculoskeletal problems in the thick of the fight.

"We see our guys on the line as professional athletes," said Capt. Christine Iverson, a physical therapist with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

Iverson, who has been an Army physical therapist since April of 2006, earned a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Baylor University and has been helping Screaming Eagle Soldiers reach their peak performance ever since. She and her mobile physical therapy team have helped more than 2,500 Soldiers get back on their feet since being deployed here in Sept. 2007.

The Army and Baylor University have been partners in helping physical therapists expand their role in the military since 1971, when the Army faced a shortage of orthopedic surgeons during the war in Vietnam. These "physician extenders" were credentialed to evaluate and treat neuromusculoskeletal patients without physician referral, according to the Army Medical Specialist Corps website.

The Bastogne physical therapy team handles an array of Soldier's injuries, from acute battle wounds to chronic orthopedic pain, said Iverson.

"You name it, we're here to fix them," she said.

The physical therapy team specializes in joint mobilizations, manipulations and exercise therapies. They use sophisticated machines, modalities and braces to help debilitated warriors get back on their feet across the Salah ad Din province.

"Physical therapy is not to be confused with massage therapy," said Iverson, who describes the operation as a one stop shop for relieving Soldier's aches and pains.

Iverson said that her team spends an average of 20 days a month traveling to forward operating bases providing treatment and giving advice to Soldiers on how to avoid injuries.

"As we are trying to do more with less, it becomes important for our line Soldiers to get the best treatment we can give them," she said. "We want them to leave here as better Soldiers."

A large portion of the cases Iverson's team deals with is back pain. As Soldiers are being asked to carry a heavy burden here, so too they carry equally heavy loads on their backs. Core strengthening is key to avoiding back issues, said Iverson. This entails building the muscle that acts as a weight belt underneath the superficial layers of muscle around your core, she said.

For many Soldiers, the physical therapists here have been instrumental in helping them recover.

"It's awesome because you don't have to go through a whole deployment in pain," said Spc. Thomas Heppler, who is suffering from chronic back pain.

Heppler said that he appreciates having a physical therapist at the brigade level instead of having to seek help elsewhere.

"It makes it easier on me to have them here," he said. "They make themselves real accessible."

For Iverson, there is no better place for a physical therapist to be, than at the heart of the fight.

"We belong down at the line units," she said. "We owe them that."

(Spc. Rick Rzepka serves with the 1st BCT, 101st Airborne Division (AA))