News: Stretch yourself before you wreck yourself
Story by Sgt. LaToya Nemes
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As the body ages, its ability to recover weakens. Years of wear, tear, use and abuse on the body will eventually catch up, said Maj. Marc Skinner, assistant chief of physical therapy at Madigan Army Medical Center.
“We see in sports, kids try to specialize in one sport at a young age. By the time they hit 18, 19 or 20 years old, they’ve hurt themselves, injured themselves or just burned themselves out,” said Skinner. “Then the activity is no longer enjoyable or possible.”
In the military, soldiers need to be proficient at a whole host of activities that increase their flexibility, endurance, strength and power, he said.
However, Skinner added that the rate of musculoskeletal injuries has almost doubled during the past couple years in the Army. The cumulative effects of multiple minor injuries overtime have become a trend.
An injured soldier’s focus on recovery while deployed is different than when in garrison, said Skinner. In combat, soldiers are actively engaged and do not have the opportunity to take a break and allow their bodies to recover.
As a physical therapist, Skinner said he is always looking for ways that deployed soldiers can modify activity so injuries are less painful while allowing them to remain combat effective.
When soldiers return from deployment, Skinner said their attention shifts toward recovery.
“No one wants to hear, ‘This injury is going to take time to heal.’ But, the process of healing a musculoskeletal injury takes time,” he said.
Physical therapy can remove some of the roadblocks to recovery.
One way to decrease the risk of injury is by taking a standard sports medicine approach that incorporates dynamic warm-ups instead of static stretching. Forgoing a warm-up or stretching session places undue stress on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, Skinner said.
“Muscles respond to different training parameters in different ways. For example, if a soldier has really strong and explosive muscles he won’t respond well to long, slow distance runs,” Skinner said. “A soldier with aerobic muscle fibers isn’t necessarily strong and powerful, so plyometrics and agilities wouldn’t be the best exercise for the soldier’s muscles.”
He said team and squad leaders should recognize the different abilities of each soldier and tailor a program that meets their individual needs.
“The more fit you are, the easier it is to recover from an injury,” said Skinner.
Skinner said physical therapists are starting to see many chronic injuries that are easily avoidable if soldiers train correctly.
Whether chronic or acute, Skinner said soldiers should be aware of their injuries. Some health issues, like arthritis, require persistent care and attention.
“If it’s tight, it needs to be stretched. If it’s weak, it needs to be strengthened,” he said.
To remain ready, soldiers need to be injury-free. Many injuries can be prevented through deliberately planned, focused and varied physical training.
“I think with physical readiness, you’re not getting stronger or faster when you’re performing an activity,” said Skinner. “You’re getting stronger and faster when you recover from training.”
To learn more tips on injury prevention, visit http://armymedicine.mil.