***image1***Many patients are at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for a very short time – usually between three to five days before going home to recover. With such little time, why even bother with physical therapy?
“You’re dealing with otherwise healthy, physically-active people,” said Col. Stephen Shandera, LRMC physical therapist. “To lie around in bed is not going to do them any good. Even one or two days of bed rest will start the deconditioning process.”
Some of these patients have been out of surgery only 20 minutes before the therapy team pays them a visit. While the patient lies in bed, LRMC physical therapist 1st Lt. Shane McDonald prescribes various exercises.
“Arch your foot, straighten out your knee and squeeze your rear together,” said Lieutenant McDonald. “Now kick my hand.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Emmanuel Garcia grunted, groaned and sweated his way through his exercises, but he managed to raise his heavily-bandaged knee high enough to kick the lieutenant’s hand.
“It hurts,” said Corporal Garcia. “But it’s easy for me to get motivated for therapy. Anything that is challenging to a Marine motivates me.”
“Most of these patients are motivated,” said Lieutenant McDonald. “They either want to get home or back down range. They want to walk and move around. But in order to do that, they have to get started with therapy.”
It’s also important to the therapy staff to get patients “crutch proficient” because if they are unable to properly use crutches, they will be bedridden on the nine-hour flight to America.
“It’s so important for us to get people up on crutches before they leave here, because we don’t want them on a litter the whole way home,” said Colonel Shandera. “Being confined to a litter really limits their comfort.”
Aside from the physical benefits of therapy, another reason to get started early is the helpful psychological effect on patients.
“It’s important to the physiological aspect of Soldiers to get them up and allow them to be somewhat self-sufficient,” said Lieutenant McDonald. “It really helps the patient maintain a positive outlook when they can get up and walk and bathe.”
One of the roles of physical therapy is to help someone figure out what they can do, said Colonel Shandera. “We try to educate them as to what they can do instead of focusing on their limitations and that has to happen right away.”
Physical therapy at LRMC includes a host of activities from stretching and riding a stationary bike to light weight lifting. If patients are able to do so, they exercise. Just because a person can’t walk without crutches, doesn’t mean he can’t do bicep curls.
“Even while an injured area heals, it’s important to use the un-injured side and maintain physical conditioning,” said Colonel Shandera.