Science and clinical expertise offer relief to Soldiers

By Sgt. Annette B. Andrews
28th Public Affairs Detachment

LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — Pain and torture. That's how some might jokingly describe physical therapy or PT, but the physical therapy clinic on LSA Anaconda is all about healing and reducing, if not eliminating the pain.

People with minor to moderate bone, tendon, joint or muscle injuries looking for an alternative to surgery or medication might want to walk in for an evaluation.

"I was told there was no hope for me," said Staff Sgt. Margie Chadwick, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 13th Corps Support Command, explaining how she was referred to physical therapy. "My options were surgery or live with the pain. But I talked to these guys in (physical therapy) and they said they could help me."

The physical therapist and his assistants use scientific knowledge and evidence-based clinical expertise in this hands-on profession. But relief does not come overnight; it takes hard work and dedication to stick to the routine, stated Spc. William Bacon, physical therapist assistant, Company C, 181st Support Battalion. The physical therapy staff manages the patients' treatments using different methods to include ultrasound, heat, ice and massage therapy plus exercise.

"Strengthening, conditioning of those weakened joints is important to healing," Bacon said. "We use mobilization [techniques], bands, medicine balls, stretches and exercise bikes aimed toward job functions to get patients back to job duties with as little pain as possible."

During the first visit to the clinic expect to undergo an initial evaluation. The therapist will ask about the patient's medical history, how the illness or injury occurred, and how long the patient has had the problem.

The physical therapist will also perform different tests to diagnose the patient's condition. After completing the assessment, a treatment plan is discussed and therapy begins.

"After being treated for awhile, I'm not 100 percent better but, I'm not suffering from the type of pain I had before," Chadwick said.

Treatment includes postural training, or education, and ergonomic training. Using the applied science of ergonomics that is concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that people and things interact most efficiently and safely - also called human engineering - the staff will attempt to improve the patient's work area if possible. It could be as simple as lowering the computer keyboard, arranging items at a comfortable distance and sitting closer to the desk, explained Bacon.

"We see a lot of low back pain that we've dubbed 'IBA Syndrome,'" Bacon said concerning the most common injuries treated to date. "Knee pain from overuse and something called SI dysfunction, a misalignment of joints, are the most common injuries."

The techniques used differ with each patient and treatment is designed specifically for each unique condition.

Another key point to remember said Bacon is to seek treatment directly after an accident or any traumatic event especially if there is a functional deficiency or intense pain.

"I thought I came in for a leg injury I got in a Humvee accident and here I am being treated for my back too," said Sgt. Debbie Selva, Company L, 151st Aviation Intermediate Maintenance.

"When I [first] came in I could tolerate walking but if I wanted to swim or do any sort of exercise I couldn't bear to walk afterward. Now I can do more. I hurt a lot but I can do more."

Exercises are a staple of physical therapy treatment. The assigned exercises might include breathing, strengthening or stretching techniques. It's necessary to perform the exercises at home and not just in the clinic because this is probably the single most important step to improvement, Bacon explained.

Treatment can also reduce discomfort for people who have chronic pain due to former injuries or illness. Most patients spend two to six weeks in therapy.

"If we can't get them fixed in six weeks we'll send them to the (Troop Medical Clinic) for further evaluation," Bacon said.

The 181st Sup. Bn. established the physical therapy clinic here one week after its arrival in theater last April.

Personnel on staff include Capt. Kenneth Utzinger, a licensed physical therapist from Texas and Master Sgt. Colleen Vandervest, massage therapist; both are of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 81st Brigade Combat Team. Pfc. Eric T. Atencio, medic, Co. C, 181st Sup. Bn., is a new addition to the staff. Bacon is a licensed physical therapist assistant.

Editors Note: Sgt. Andrews is a member of the 28th Public Affairs Detachment from Fort Lewis, Wash. She is currently deployed to Iraq in support of the 13th Corps Support Command at LSA Anaconda and is the editor of the Anaconda Times newspaper.


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(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Spc. William Bacon, 81st Brigade Combat Team physical therapist assistant, applies joint mobilization to Sgt. Debbie Selva, Company L, 151st Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Battalion, during her treatment for soft tissue injuries. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Annette B. Andrews)

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(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Spc. Clinton Gray, 29th Signal Battalion, lies on the exam table while Pfc. Eric Atencio, 181st Support Battalion, fills an ice pack with ice water to prevent his knee from swelling.