Physical Therapists play crucial role in helping patients achieve their physical activity goals

By Tech. Sgt. AJ Hyatt | 87th Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Oct. 6, 2020

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – Throughout the month of October, the 87th Medical Group Physical Therapy unit will be promoting National Physical Therapy Month.

The goal during National Physical Therapy Month is to promote the profession and improve society’s knowledge of injury prevention and optimization of human performance and movement.

When Airmen suffer from illness or injury, their motor functions can be adversely compromised. Providing services that help restore function, improve mobility and relieve pain, Physical Therapists work closely with patients to help them heal and promote overall wellness. From identifying problems to developing and implementing a care plan, these specialists work with patients as long as necessary so that they can resume healthy, active lifestyles, according to the United States Air Force career detail. 

Since the pandemic hit, military installations had to make adjustments for COVID-19 operations. Physical therapists still had to come in and work with their patients face-to-face. Patients who just got out of surgery, right as COVID happened, were being seen.

“Our physical therapy manual treatment has to be hands on,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rodolfo Torres, 87 MDG Physical Therapy non-commissioned officer in charge. “A lot of patients had to be let go when COVID kicked off. We were only seeing patients that were post-operative – who just gotten out of surgery during COVID’s beginning.”

Unfortunately, physical therapy has no discrimination when it comes to age. Some of the common issues seen at the 87 MDG Physical Therapy deal with shoulders, knees and lower backs, which are occurring with both younger and older patients.

“Physical training test are around the corner,” Torres said. “One of our main concerns is we do get a lot of patients that get hurt when they are trying to prepare for their physical training test, whether they are trying to do too much, too soon or they were on track and decided to kick it up a notch because they were a couple weeks out from their test and they end up tweaking something.”

With the gyms opening up and official testing dates more clear – injury prevention will be key.

“Let’s be honest, a lot of us have probably gone on vacation when it comes to fitness,” said Torres. “But now is the time to start doing something about it.”

Working with so many patients, success stories are very common in the physical therapy career field.

“One of the stories that stands out the most in my career was with an EOD Airman who had been injured from an IED during his deployment,” said Torres. “He lost one of his legs and the other leg was pretty mangled up.”

According to Torres, the Airman was fighting to stay in the Air Force and he had to prove that he could still perform. He spent a lot of time rehabilitating with the physical therapists.

“We got him up to speed,” Torres said. “Once patients are discharged we don’t really see them again - unless something else comes up. He happened to come back and told us he gotten the “OK” to stay in the military as an instructor. This was one of the biggest highlights during my career.”

Unlike many career fields, physical therapists often build close relationships with their patients.

“I chose physical therapy because, in simple terms, I love helping people,” said Airman 1st Class Yolanda Pena, 87 MDG Physical Therapy technician. “I wanted a career where I could give back to others and make a difference in people’s lives. This career field brings you individuals who have been placed in vulnerable states and are relying on you to help get them to where they were before. You get to see first-hand full spectrums of human emotions and the evolving of these emotions as you go about treatment sessions. The little celebrations and being told stories about how they are progressing always manages to put a smile on my face and I love knowing I could be a part of someone’s recovery!”

The 87 MDG Physical Therapy team can’t see everyone at the moment, but they plan to create videos in the near future to help improve their patient’s quality of life.

Visit the following link to view a video on ergonomics: