In the Army, soldiers use physical therapy as a method to help them maintain flexibility and treat injured areas.
Physical therapists not only guide and treat patients, they consult other providers on soldier and unit readiness by enhancing functional and human performance serving as the command consultants in areas of injury prevention, surveillance, physical fitness, readiness and health promotion.
Maj. Christopher Allen, an Army medical specialist corps officer assigned to Charlie Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1997 as a personnel clerk while attending college, then later became an Army Reserve Officers Training Corps cadet.
When asked why he chose this field, Allen said, “I had an interest in the sciences and I knew I wanted to do something medically related and was I interested in sports medicine.”
Allen graduated the U.S. Army-Baylor Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy in 2001 from the U.S. Army Medical Department and School at Fort Sam Houston. He is now the Ironhorse Brigade’s physical therapist.
Physical therapists practice evidence-based medicine and if there is no evidence of required injections or surgery, soldiers may be referred to physical therapy or an appropriate specialty clinic as a best-step toward to recovery, Allen said.
Brigade physical therapists control injuries and reduce their impact on readiness. They also improve access to care and provide better flexibility for soldiers during the rehabilitation process, according to the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Division, Army Medical Department, Office of the Surgeon General.
“This arrangement also benefits the rest of the brigade medical staff as we are able to collaborate (and) develop best practice pathways for patients with musculoskeletal injuries and work on injury prevention products,” Allen said.
Physical therapy is important because it is noninvasive, Allen said. It doesn’t require putting something in the body.
As a physical therapist, Allen not only addresses the initial problem, but also provides soldiers with the tools to self-treat based on the injury, which they can utilize on their own and over a long-term period to prevent them from having to come back, Allen said.
He also said that physical therapy not only treats the isolated area of injury, but also the muscles, tendons and joints around the affected area for overall strength.
“We try to empower patients and soldiers to manage their own condition,” Allen said.
Allen also said, if soldiers manage their condition and conduct their exercises as prescribed, they will see progress over time but some conditions require physical therapy in conjunction with other specialty treatment.
Spc. Zachary Adkins, a combat engineer with the brigade’s Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, does just that.
Adkins tore the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, of his left leg in two places while deployed to Kuwait, which requires continued physical therapy.
Before returning however, Adkins said he was given a list of exercises to do while in Kuwait. “(Allen) gave me some things to do on my own, it was pretty simple stuff. It was pre-surgery and was designed to keep as much strength in (my) leg as possible and it worked,” Adkins said.
After returning from Kuwait, Adkins was given guidance on how to not worsen the leg prior to surgery.
“Anything high-intensity in the legs was pretty much off limits, like jumping and running, period, was off,” Adkins said.
There are about two more months of scheduled appointments ahead while still conducting self-treatment at home, but since his surgery, Adkins said, “I feel better now than prior to surgery.”
Adkins said that right after surgery it took him 30 minutes to reach his second-floor barracks room, but now in part because of physical therapy, it takes him about a minute.
“If they give you a routine to do on your own, do it,” Adkins said. “Do not skip appointments, do your exercises. It might suck at first, but it gets better and you can actually see the benefits within a couple weeks.”
After completing his assignment for the Ironhorse Brigade, Allen will serve as the internship director for the U.S. Army-Baylor Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy and will oversee and teach students during the last year of the program.
Allen said he enjoys doing what he does, and when talking about his future in the Army and otherwise Allen said, “career-wise, I need to be a clinic chief, that would be the equivalent of command and then I would like to continue to teach, (that) is what I would really like to do.”