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Physical therapy team assist in rehabilitation of injured Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Arielle Vasquez
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
At times the fast paced military lifestyle can take a toll on Airmen, and can lead to injuries affecting their ability to accomplish the mission.

Airmen assigned to the 36th Medical Operations Squadron Physical Therapy Clinic offer their assistance by helping patients recover from chronic or acute injuries so they can return to their duties as soon as possible.

"We focus on active duty members, especially acute patients, meaning those with a new onset of injury," said Maj. Michael Curtin, 36th MDOS Health Promotion Flight commander. "We are musculoskeletal specialists so we focus on the musculoskeletal side of rehab. Physical therapy in the Air Force is primarily manual therapy, so we do a lot of hands on."

A team of three Airmen treat an average of 36 patients a day for musculoskeletal pain and a variety of injuries. The most common injuries include knee and lower back pain.

There are different ways a patient can begin treatment at the clinic. They can visit their primary care provider to get a referral to see a physical therapist for an evaluation. Another option is to call the appointment line and be directed to the clinic. This is mainly for those with acute injuries, which are injuries that have happened in the past couple weeks. If there is space available, then the patient can see the physical therapist for an initial evaluation.

"Once they come in, I do an evaluation to diagnose their ailment and then try a treatment to fix some or all of it and then start them on a home exercise program," Curtin said. "It varies from there. Sometimes patients would do exercises with the technicians, or they would come back and see me for a couple treatments."

An initial evaluation is typically 40 minutes while follow-up sessions last 20 minutes with the physical therapist.

Once the physical therapist examines a patient and has a treatment program in place, the clinic technicians can provide treatment and help Airmen recover through numerous exercises to do at the clinic as well as at home.

"The duration of appointments varies depending on the injury," said Staff Sgt. David Pienta, 36th Medical Operations physical medicine technician. "I can treat multiple patients at a time. If I have someone on a table doing leg lifts, I can also have someone on another table doing hamstring curls. For the technician appointments, the sessions generally last 30 minutes, but some patients may need up to an hour."

The team utilizes a number of methods and equipment for treatment. This includes ultrasound units, cardio equipment, traction machines and slide boards. One of the most important tools is a motion analysis machine, which analyzes any kind of motion to decipher what might be wrong and find the cause of the problem. Curtin also offers dry needling, which is the use of acupuncture needles to find trigger points or knots in the muscles.

The Airmen in the clinic always seek ways to improve treatment options and offer programs that are of great service to our patients Curtin said.

Twice a month the clinic offers lower back and knee treatment programs, especially since it is a common injury. Also offered is a group aquatic class instructed by Curtin on Tuesday and Friday at the base pool. It is especially useful for post-operation patients who need a lower impact exercise.

While results are not always immediate, Pienta said observing steady improvement in their patients is a rewarding part of the job.

"Many people, especially the surgery patients, are down on themselves and think they won't get better," said Pienta. "Toward the end, when they see improvement and are able to move and run again, I can see how this makes them feel which brings me joy in what I do."