Physical therapy means different things to different people. To paratroopers with jump injuries, itís their ticket back to full duty. To a deployed Soldier with a back injury, it can be the difference between an evacuation from theater and the ability to stay in the fight. To someone with chronic conditions, it is a tool used to improve function and quality of life.

PT is indeed about helping people to heal, but itís also about improving physical performance at all levels.

As we wrap up National PT Month, Womack Army Medical Centerís Physical Therapy Service would like to give readers an idea of how PT can play a role in improving overall activity and wellness for a variety of people.

Much like that of an elite athlete, a Soldierís job can be very physical. The difference is that Soldiers donít just need to be excellent at a single sport ó they have to be versatile enough to carry loads, scale walls and otherwise move tactically in a variety of different environments.

To do this well requires proper movement consisting of basic degrees of coordination, strength, agility and power.

Physical therapists can ensure that a Soldier moves well before he or she gets into a combat situation or before adding a 100 pounds to his or her frame which can be the difference between completing a mission in good shape and returning with injuries.

With doctoral-level training in the musculoskeletal system and movement analysis, PTs are skilled at identifying movement dysfunction even in the absence of injury. Thus, pain or injury is not a requirement for a PT evaluation.

Physical therapists can work with master fitness trainers at the unit level to develop injury prevention and human performance optimization programs, identifying those Soldiers who may be at risk for injury and helping to correct movement patterns before injuries occur.

MTFs can also leverage the knowledge and assistance of physical therapists to develop proper and effective, unit-level reconditioning physical training programs to keep injured Soldiers maximally fit and speed their return to duty.

At the core, physical therapists are musculoskeletal specialists, and experts in analyzing human movement, to include people with all types of medical conditions, disabling pain or injury.

Army PTs working on Fort Bragg see a lot of patients who have developed dysfunctional movement patterns from injury, illness and/or pain.

Whether they see the therapist for shoulders, backs, hips, or knees, almost all of them are in pain. Often, PTs ask a Soldier how long a particular issue has been bothering them and the answer is months, or even years; often this is the first time the patient has sought medical treatment.

PTs know that early intervention is key to full recovery from musculoskeletal injuries. For example, research has shown that early mobilization of a sprained ankle, as part of a physical therapy program, can significantly speed the time it takes to return to full, pain-free function.

A physical therapist is an excellent resource to both help develop injury prevention and human performance optimization programs at the unit level and create effective rehabilitation programs for those with injury or illness.

Donít wait until pain has rendered you unable to work or work out. See a physical therapist to start moving and training better now.