Physical therapists, athletic trainers assist family members

By Reginald Rogers, Martin Army Community Hospital /

FORT BENNING, Ga., (Sept. 28, 2016) — Final in a 3-part series

It’s well known that Army physical therapy plays a big part in healing wounded Soldiers and reintegrating them back into the ranks to continue their service in the nation’s defense. What is not so well known is the treatment is also extended to family members when they suffer injuries and require rehabilitative therapy.

Martin Army Community Hospital employs a team of physical therapists and athletic trainers to perform the tasks involved with treating those family members. According to Maj. John Ko, chief of physical therapy at MACH, numerous family members are treated at Fort Benning medical treatment facilities daily.

“We have ATs who serve in the training units and here at the hospital. Our athletic trainers see, not only Soldiers here at BMACH, but they also see family members every day,” Ko said.

Ko pointed out that there are no common injuries when it comes to family members. That observation differs from that of Soldiers, who are often seen for lower extremity injuries, mostly caused by military-related physical activities.

“I think the types of injuries to family members vary, depending on the patient. We do have family members who are quite active. They’re runners and they play sports, so we treat some lower extremity injuries, as well,” Ko said. “Typically, we see a lot of spine dysfunctions, including neck and upper-back pain.”

He said those injuries are commonly caused by improper lifting, but sometimes the pains just come for no particular reason. “We call it part of doing business as human beings,” Ko said.

He pointed out that the physical therapy department and its athletic trainers offer various levels of treatment for Soldiers, their family members and retirees.

“Because of the vision and support from the hospital commander, we have the ability to bring on family members, retirees and all of the beneficiaries that we typically refer out. Now we’re bringing them back in to BMACH to be able to provide advance orthopedic care,” Ko said.

“I’m very happy to announce that we have 12 to 13 providers who are certified in mechanical diagnosis and therapy, which is high-level certification for orthopedic care. That level of training will allow our beneficiaries, including family members, to receive high-level orthopedic care, which focuses on self-management and getting to the root cause of the problem as quickly as possible, to empower that patient to stay better,” he added.

“Typically, family members would go see their health care manager and that would disclose the injury,” Ko said. “Their PCM would then provide us with a referral or consult for physical therapy. From that point on, our access to care would be a seven to 10-day turnaround to see us here at the main clinic. The patient would then sit down with a certified physical therapist and mechanically diagnose the therapy within those seven to 10 days and develop a plan of care for that patient.”

He added that the athletic trainers and physical therapists work as a team.

“The physical therapists will establish the plan of care, based on the evaluation. The athletic trainer will help execute that plan of care for that family member,” Ko explained.

“The ATs will work with that person on a one-on-one basis,” he said. “The AT will potentially see that patient from two to three times a week, for a week or two. The ATs serve as the PTs eyes and ears, when it comes to patients who are enrolled into the clinic.

“So if the AT sees something that the PT may have overlooked, or if symptoms have changed and the AT has noticed that change, the AT goes directly to the physical therapist and gives him an update on that patient’s status, so that every session, we’re honing in to the root cause and eliminating it.”

Ko added that ATs are an extension of the physical therapists, much like how the medics and physicians assistants work as a team at the post’s battalion aid stations.

“ATs and PTs are committed to giving the patient a tool to self-manage. Even though they may be discharged from physical therapy because their symptoms are abolished, we want to give them something that they can do on their own so that their symptoms are less likely to come back,” he added.

Ko also pointed out that the length of treatment for family members generally depends on the severity and complexity of their injuries, but MACH’s physical therapists are trained so that they are able to assist in the patient’s recovery. At maximum, they may require about two to three sessions to determine the root cause of the problem. Within that point on, it may take a matter of a week or two to resolve that issue, he explained.

Ko admitted that since MACH has brought many of its beneficiaries back to receiving health care at Fort Benning, the physical therapy workload has increased significantly.

“It has increased, but because of the amount of support that we’ve received from the hospital command group, we were able to hire several providers and we’re still in the process of hiring civilian physical therapists, so that we can continue to provide a high level of orthopedic care and musculoskeletal care to our beneficiaries here at Fort Benning,” he said.

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