Physical therapy treats Airmen’s aches, pains

Story and photo by Tech Sgt. Chad Thompson
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Everyone has been through something in life where they needed a helping hand to get them back on their feet.

Whether it’s recovering from a broken bone or surgical procedure, a sprain or strain, runner’s knee, sore feet or a bad back — physical therapy can help.
A physical therapist’s role is helping a patient relieve pain through flexibility, strengthening key muscle groups and ensuring proper joint alignment when performing tasks.

“The key concepts … for injury prevention are using proper body mechanics and alignment,” said Maj. Linda Schemm, 86th Medical Group physical therapy flight commander.

For example, making sure one’s knees and hips are aligned while walking, running or performing an exercise can help prevent injury, Schemm said. Knowing one’s limits is just as important as making sure someone is working out correctly.

“Modify or tailor exercises to your ability,” she said. “If you can’t do an advanced-level activity, you can modify it to a simpler one.”

She said doing knee pushups rather than regular pushups will help someone if they are having difficulties or if it’s causing them pain.

But what’s the difference with being sore or being injured?

“Pain after an exercise is normally muscle soreness and that will resolve if you stretch a little and keep moving … that’s actually a good sign because you can build on that,” Schemm said. “If you have joint pain and swelling, this is not a good thing and you need to ease off on what you are doing.”

After a difficult workout, she stressed to do something with less impact or focus on a different muscle group the following workout in order to prevent injury and give the sore joints and muscles time to recover.

“If the pain or swelling lasts for only a couple days it probably means someone may have overdone it,” she said. “You don’t want to overtrain any single area. If the pain persists beyond three or four days, you may need to see your health care provider.”

Her best advice — take it easier for a few days and ease back into the workouts, but don’t completely stop.

“You want to keep moving,” Schemm said. “If you aren’t able to run, you want to do something else like walk or ride a stationary bike, elliptical machine or swim … you don’t want to just throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘That’s too much, I’m not doing it’ — find other things to do.”

She said if there was one workout method she would highly encourage Airmen to try it would be cross-training.

Cross-training is a workout that combines a variety of strength-training exercises, cardio and flexibility and can be varied throughout the week for an overall body workout without stressing one particular area, Schemm said

Strength training may range from beginner’s exercises like squats and pushups to advanced ones like burpees, handstand pushups, battle ropes and “wall ball.” Weight training may also be included. Some forms of cardio workouts are walking, elliptical, running or swimming. Flexibility may include basic stretches to yoga.
Physical therapy specialists provide just such a program for Airmen here who may have been through surgery or a significant injury and have been progressed to higher level activities in rehabilitation, Schemm said.

Tech. Sgt. David Garcia, 86th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy technician, said the three-week group isn’t for every physical therapy patient. It is specially designed for those who are going back to some of the more physically demanding Air Force career fields and it’s used to ensure they have proper form to avoid re-injury at work or during their leisure activities.

“The workouts consist of a little bit of everything,” Garcia said. “It’s designed to work the major muscle groups and it’s focused training for conditioning and strength training to make sure these (Airmen) are ready to take their (physical fitness tests) again.”

Getting Airmen back to work healthy and ready to accomplish the mission is what physical therapy is all about.

“We are here to help them make it to their finish line — whether it is the fit test, recreational activities, or making it to retirement … we want to help them get there,” Schemm said. “We don’t cure anybody — we facilitate them taking care of themselves.”

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