Back to Top Skip to main content

Let’s get moving: Physical therapy from a provider’s perspective

A career spent in the infantry coupled with an active lifestyle led to 12 knee surgeries for U.S. Army Gen. Robert B. Brown, Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific. Shown here (center) greeting soldiers at the National Training Center Fort Irwin, Calif., Brown credits an effective physical therapy regimen for getting him back in the field. (U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Spandau) A career spent in the infantry coupled with an active lifestyle led to 12 knee surgeries for U.S. Army Gen. Robert B. Brown, Commanding General of U.S. Army Pacific. Shown here (center) greeting soldiers at the National Training Center Fort Irwin, California. Brown credits an effective physical therapy regimen for getting him back in the field. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Spandau)

Recommended Content:

Physical Activity | Deployment Health

“Hey ma’am, do you remember me?” said a male voice. Army Maj. Sarah Baker, a physical therapist, looked up to see a young infantry soldier standing next to her as she sat in a dining facility in Iraq. “I got back to my unit and look at me now. Thank you for helping me get here,” he said.

Baker, now the director of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in northern Virginia, had helped the soldier a few years earlier. He was in his mid-20s at the time and had sustained a shoulder injury while deployed. He returned to the United States for surgery and worked with Baker in the months after to regain motion.

She recalled that he worked relentlessly through rehabilitation to return to his unit when it redeployed. Baker met with him two to three times a week for several months, using a progressive in-clinic treatment program, a disciplined home exercise program, and a variety of modalities in order to break through his range of motion barriers, she said. After about nine months, he was discharged from the program.

“We don’t always get to see folks several years down the road, especially in the Military Health Care system,” said Baker. “To see how far somebody had come and the gratitude he felt to be back with his unit and to be mission-capable, it was awesome.”

Physical therapists work with patients in both clinical and deployed settings to treat a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including joint stiffness, overuse injuries, weakness, combat-related injuries, and limited function. They help patients restore or maintain functional abilities, reduce pain, and prevent injuries. While PTs are most commonly known in orthopedics and sports rehabilitation, they are also involved in injury prevention, human performance optimization, women’s health, and heart health, Baker said.

Army Maj. Jose Durbin, assistant chief of physical therapy at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, said physical therapists have a large skill set that prepares them for working in a direct access setting. As first line providers, they can evaluate and diagnose musculoskeletal conditions, refer patients to other specialists, prescribe non-narcotic medications, and order imaging for patients when indicated, he said.

“We are well-trained to recognize what’s appropriate for us to manage and what needs to be seen by someone else,” said Durbin. “When it does fall within our scope, we have a large arsenal of tools to address that particular condition.”

Physical therapy is often the first step in helping patients with conditions involving the joints, bones, or muscles, said Durbin. Physical therapists frequently use a multimodal approach to help patients during their rehabilitation. This can include manual therapy or hands-on techniques, exercise, and various modalities. They also provide patients with the education and tools they need to continue their program at home.

Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, has always enjoyed an active lifestyle, but that lifestyle, coupled with the career of an infantryman, has taken a physical toll. The wear and tear eventually led to torn patella tendons in both of his knees, resulting in 12 surgeries over the years. Physical therapy has helped him recover mobility, flexibility, and overall well-being, he said.

“I don't know how I'd recover without my physical therapy regimen,” said Brown, who received care from Durbin at TAMC for several months after surgery. The regimen he used, which included home exercises, sped his recovery and helped him deal with other physical challenges that came up as he compensated for his knee after surgery. “It’s a lot of work, but the reward of being fully recovered is worth it.”

Patients work with their providers to structure an individual treatment plan. Depending on their needs and injury, treatment options can include therapeutic exercise, aquatic therapy, transitional gym training, or inpatient care.

“Major Durbin provided a tough but achievable path to better flexibility and reduction in pain following my recent surgery,” said Brown. Fitting in physical therapy while on the road can be challenging, but the key to successful recovery is the patient's discipline and adherence to the program, he added. “One may have a tremendous care plan, but if poorly executed or executed inconsistently, the results may not be the same.”

Musculoskeletal conditions don’t get better with time, Durbin warned. The sooner people get evaluated and receive guidance or treatment, the more likely they are to see quicker improvements, receive the tools to maintain progress, and prevent worsening of the condition, he said.

“A lot of people will put things off because they can still get by, but sometimes they wait until they hit that breaking point where it significantly impacts their quality of life or prevents them from doing the things they enjoy,” said Durbin.

Brown admits he used to try to ‘soldier through’ much of his discomfort during his recoveries from knee surgery. As a result, full recovery took more time. Knowing that a key component of readiness is preventive care, Brown encourages all service members to maximize their readiness by seeking medical treatment when they need it and following the advice of the experts.

“The body is an amazing and resilient thing, and sometimes it just needs a little bit of guidance in the right direction,” said Baker. 

You also may be interested in...

Zapping mosquitoes from the inside out

While chemical mosquito population control measures have been used with some degree of success, they are toxic to other insect populations and to the health of humans. A different angle of defense has emerged, which is genetic modification of the mosquito itself, making it transgenic. Transgenic mosquitoes are unable to transmit a pathogen, such as malaria, due to their altered genetic makeup. (DoD photo)

Mosquitoes aren’t just annoying at summer barbecues. In many parts of the world, they carry pathogens for Zika, dengue, yellow fever and malaria, the most devastating of mosquito-borne diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 440,000 people died in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 from malaria, contracted from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Protecting U.S. military personnel who continue to serve in this part of world is critical.

Recommended Content:

Bug Week: July 27 - August 2 | Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Zika Virus | Preventing Mosquito-Borne Illnesses | Preventive Health | Innovation | Medical Research and Development | Deployment Health

The simple – and complicated – task of shoveling snow

Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Seifridsberger shovels knee-deep snow to build a simulated hasty firing position during training exercise Ready Force Breach at Fort Drum, New York. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew Carroll)

When in the throes of winter weather, there are ways to prepare for a successful, injury-free snow shoveling activity

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Reserve Health Readiness Program | Health Readiness | Physical Activity

New Year, New You

Nutritionists at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center stress people eat healthy, well-balanced meals, include exercise and set realistic goals for weight loss. (Photo courtesy of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

One of the major pitfalls as to why diets fail is “jumping in with both feet”

Recommended Content:

Physical Activity

A new year marks a new you

Navy Reserve Sailors assigned to Navy Operational Support Center, Phoenix perform a 1.5-mile run during the physical readiness test at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Drew Verbis)

Changes in lifestyle don’t have to be drastic to be effective

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Physical Activity

Sticks and stones can break bones – and so can osteoporosis

Master Sgt. Kimberly Kaminski, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, flips a 445-pound tire during a workout at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Resistance training is just one of many steps to take to fight osteoporosis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ross A. Whitley)

Steps to take today to build a future of healthy bones

Recommended Content:

Nutrition | Physical Activity | Women's Health

Swimming for good health: Just go with the flow

A midshipman participates in the 500-yard swim portion of a physical screening test as part of the explosive ordnance disposal summer cruise at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeff Atherton)

Aquatic exercise is a low-impact alternative to running

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Physical Activity

Going the distance runs in the family

Elisa Zwanenburg (left) and Al Richmond (right) engage in their favorite father-daughter activity, marathon running. (Courtesy photo by James Frank)

For this father/daughter team, running, and the Marine Corps principles that carry them, are in their blood

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Physical Activity | Men's Health

Deep vein thrombosis: What you need to know

Jamia Bailey (center) with her parents, James and Pia, after she underwent a procedure in December at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, to help prevent deep vein thrombosis from recurring. DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside the body. (Courtesy photo)

Everyone’s potentially at risk, vascular surgeon says

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Preventive Health | Heart Health | Physical Activity

Small changes, big results: Healthy lifestyle choices can make a difference for heart health

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, director of the Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy at Boston University, provides insight on the importance of heart health. From 2010 to 2016, Woodson served as the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. He is also a brigadier general in the United States Army Reserve. (Photo courtesy of Boston University)

Risk for heart disease, the number one killer of Americans every year, can be decreased through healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Nutrition | Physical Activity

Eat an apple a day, but don't keep the dentist away

A child eats an apple during a Trunk-or-Treat event, which featured a healthy snack station as an alternative to candy, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jimmie D. Pike)

Good oral health takes more than brushing teeth and flossing – it also requires proper nutrition

Recommended Content:

Deployment Health | Health Readiness | Nutrition | Preventive Health

Traumatic Brain Injury and the Art of Paddling

Collins enjoys stand-up paddle boarding for how it helps him with TBI. His service dog, Charlie, likes it too. (Courtesy Photo by U.S. Army Special Operations veteran Josh Collins)

A U.S. Army veteran’s recipe for embracing life after several TBIs

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Hearing Loss | Men's Health | Physical Activity | Physical Disability | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Traumatic Brain Injury | Vision Loss

Rocky and Elmo want providers to "Watch. Ask. Share."

Defense Health Agency Director Vice Admiral Raquel “Rocky” Bono joined Sesame Street’s Elmo to record a welcome video for the new provider section of the Sesame Street for Military Families website. (Photo by MHS Communications)

How DHA teamed with Sesame Street to help care for military families

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Public Health | Preventive Health | Children's Health | Deployment Health | Connected Health

Heart Health Month: Stopping the number-one killer

Going to the gym regularly can certainly improve heart health. So can taking a walk or using the stairs instead of the elevator. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lancaster)

Learn about the small changes that can make a big difference in your overall health

Recommended Content:

Physical Activity | Heart Health

A new year, a new you: Take command of your health

The month of January provides a fresh opportunity to take command of your health and improve your physical and emotional health, job performance, and mission readiness. (Courtesy photo)

Meeting goals requires inspiration, commitment, action

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Physical Activity

Battlefield acupuncture shows promising results downrange

Research has shown how beneficial battlefield acupuncture can be in combat settings. Not only does it reduce the use of medication with potentially harmful side effects, administering BFA is an easy and highly effective tool for pain management. (Air Force photo)

Research has shown how beneficial battlefield acupuncture can be in combat settings

Recommended Content:

Deployment Health | Pain Management
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 7

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.