Physical therapy clinic aids ailing Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shane Dunaway
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
The rigors and tempo of military life can often be strenuous, even for the healthiest Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and their families. The wear and tear sometimes leads to nagging injuries which hamper the ability to accomplish the mission at work or at home.

When a primary care manager diagnoses an injury requiring rehabilitation, Airmen from the 36th Medical Operations Squadron's physical therapy clinic step into the plan of care focusing their efforts on quickly recovering their patient.

"This physical therapy clinic is very valuable to the mission here at Andersen," said Senior Master Sgt. Leo Castro, 36th MDOS NCO in charge of the physical therapy clinic and the Pacific Air Forces functional manager for his career field. "One of the main reasons this clinic opened in February 2007 was to prevent patients from having to drive to Navy up to three times a week, costing the Air Force a total of almost 12 hours per week per patient. This clinic is saving the Air Force money and man-hours. This time and money savings is important for our dependents, but critical for our military mission."

The physical therapy clinic's staff treats more than 250 patients per month for a variety of injuries, some occurring more often than others.

"Low back pain has always been the most common referral to physical therapy," said Maj. Brad Reyman, 36th MDOS physical therapist. "However, since the start of the Air Force's new fitness requirements, running injuries are a close second."

During therapy sessions, technicians educate Airmen on ways to prevent further injury and how lifestyle choices can impact the healing process.

According to Tech. Sgt. Evita Yuan, 36th MDOS physical therapy technician, the process begins once a primary care manager sends a referral to the clinic. Once referred, Major Reyman evaluates each injury and coordinates an individual program specially tailored to each patient's needs.

As with illnesses and other medical concerns, early diagnosis and rehabilitation of an injury increases the chances of recovery. Sometimes surgical intervention is still necessary, but PT prior to the event will greatly increase the recovery results.

"Nine times out of ten, orthopedics will recommend patients come to us and do what we call 'pre-hab' before surgery," Sergeant Castro said. "In pre-hab, we get them to [where] they're as strong as they can be before surgery. After the surgery, the recovery time is faster because [patients' bodies are stronger] from pre-hab and not starting from their weakest point. This is important to get the patients comfortable with the exercises they will depend on after the surgery, before they have the added complication of pain and stiffness. "

In recent months, technicians sought innovative ways to improve the services provided by the clinic and provide 'outside the box' treatment options.

"We're trying to keep patients interested in rehab because it isn't always the most comfortable thing to do," Sergeant Castro said. "One of the things we've tried to do to make the experience more fun is by doing what we call 'Wii-hab.' One example of how this can work is for the patient to start off with a warm-up exercise. A patient experiencing shoulder problems would box for five to 10 minutes against the machine or against another patient who has a similar injury. This is an effective strategy to keep patients interested. Since many injuries seen from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are people between the ages of 18 and 26, Wii-hab is in tune with their love of technology."

Members of the staff cite their patients' successes as one of the many joys of working in the physical therapy clinic.

"I feel that this job is extremely rewarding because you get to see people progress," said Staff Sgt. Rebecca Smen, 36th MDOS physical therapy technician. "When they first come in, you may see them limping, hobbling or sometimes even doubled over in pain. But when we're done with them, more often than not, they're able to run, hop, skip and jump. It's exciting to watch them because they can build their confidence as they go and you can see them get stronger."