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Second in a 3-part series
As new recruits train to become Infantrymen and Armor Soldiers at Fort Benning, their level of pre-training fitness is oftentimes a determining factor on how susceptible they are to injuries.
Some injuries, depending on its severity, can impact whether or not they finish their training and become productive Soldiers.
As part of the surgeon general's initiative and in an effort to ensure that all prospective Soldiers and the cadre who serve them receive the best in medical treatment and injury prevention, the Army has placed individual musculoskeletal care specialists within its training battalions. The process has been instrumental in educating Soldiers on how to prevent injuries, but the MSK specialist also provide treatment to cut down on recovery time for those who are injured.
"It's actually forward musculoskeletal care, where we have health care professionals embedded at the training units to ensure that our Soldiers in training receive the highest quality of care forward, instead of coming into the troop medical clinics, in addition to the cadre receiving training at the same time at the training units," explained Maj. John Ko, chief of physical therapy at Martin Army Community Hospital.
Ko said there are currently 20 contracted athletic trainers serving all five of Fort Benning's training brigades. He said the trainers are contracted through a company to serve within the installation's training environment, as well as at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
"Essentially, our athletic trainers are the first line to providing MSK care to Soldiers in training," Ko said.
"They're teaming up with physical therapists at each of those locations to form MSK stations within the battalion stations."
Ko pointed out that a lot of the injuries that are trending in the training environment include those to the lower extremities, such as knee and shin pains, and ankle sprains.
"What we really want to focus on is ensuring that we provide the right care to prospective Soldiers with hip injuries," he said.
According to Ko, the forward MSK care program has been a part of Army medicine for quite some time and the program has proven its effectiveness in saving training time.
"When trainees are being seen by (athletic trainers) at the battalions, instead of at the Troop Medical Clinic, and they can be properly managed, we're saving a significant amount of time for training units," he explained. "Being treated locally prevents them from traveling to the TMC or the hospital and it saves hours of time that can be used for training."
Ko said the ATs are usually located at the battalion headquarters, where they are embedded in the unit's fitness area.
"We have treatment tables and other modalities that we use, in addition to the fitness equipment that the units purchase in their area. The only thing that Medical Department Activities provide is the subject-matter expert to serve at that particular location," he pointed out.
Ko added that units have been receptive to having the ATs located nearby and the service that they provide.
"I think they see them as combat multipliers," he said. "They see that those ATs have a positive impact on the unit's readiness, and they also educate the trainees and cadre about Performance Triad, such as what are the right things to eat at the dining facility; when they should eat and drink; and what are some of the things you should do to help you recover faster, in terms of sleep and activity."
Ko said the services provided by the ATs are more of a holistic approach to impact the trainees' performance.
"We're very excited to team up with the Performance Triad and also with Army Wellness, which will hold a grand opening in October," he said.
Ko said it's important for the local community to know that Fort Benning and MACH is leading the way when it comes to providing forward musculoskeletal care.
"We're very committed and we're taking this collaborative approach with the U.S. Army Medical Command and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. At the end of the day, we want to have a positive impact on a unit's physical readiness," he said.
Ko said the forward musculoskeletal care program not only provides MSK care, but they also collect entry data, which means that the command group will have real-time, actionable injury trends reporting and tracking for that particular battalion. In turn, that command group has access to that information and the ability to make a decision that will have a positive impact on reducing some of those injuries.
"If the command group sees a pattern or trend for a particular week of training, the commander has the ability to adjust or reduce an injury-causing activity for the next training cycle, which should reduce the amount of those common injuries," Ko explained.
"What I tell people is that health care providers don't necessarily prevent injuries. It's the leaders, commanders and noncommissioned officers who prevent the injuries," he said. "As health care professionals, we educate those decision-makers so that they can make better decisions to hopefully, mitigate some of those injuries.