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359th Physical Therapy Flight has your back

| Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Nov. 23, 2016

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States, affecting an estimated eight in 10 Americans at some point during their lives.

It’s also a common problem for patients at the 359th Medical Group’s Physical Therapy Flight, where a nine-person staff of active-duty members, civilians and contractors provide treatment for active-duty personnel, retirees and other beneficiaries.

“Our staff has nearly doubled in size in the last year and a half, so we’re growing to meet the needs of all our patients,” said Capt. Brittany McCright, 359th Medical Operations Squadron Physical Therapy Flight commander.

The addition of civilian staff members allows the flight to provide treatment for more than 1,400 patients per month.

“We used to be an active-duty staff,” said Tech. Sgt. Casey Berry, 359th MDOS Physical Therapy Flight chief. “Adding civilian positions gives the clinic some continuity.

“In addition, more staff means more availability,” he said. “We’re serving 100 to 150 more patients per week than before.”

Berry called back problems the flight’s “No. 1 diagnosis” and said back pain is often related to poor body mechanics or overuse.

McCright attributed other back problems, especially for people who sit at a computer all day, to poor posture.

“We get a lot of issues related to poor posture, such as back, shoulder and neck pain,” she said.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, habitual poor posture can stress the joints and place long-term pressure on the lower back and shoulders, causing neck or back pain.

Other complaints addressed by physical therapists – those involving the shoulders, knees, ankles and other body parts – are more injury-related, Berry said.

“Some of those injuries come from working out or playing sports,” he said.

The flight’s staff consists of three physical therapists and six physical therapy assistants. The team includes four active-duty members, three contractors and two Department of Defense civilians.

The physical therapists evaluate new patients and determine a plan of care, while the assistants provide the therapy, Berry said.

“After the evaluation is over and therapy begins, the therapist will see each patient every few weeks to see if the plan of care needs to be manipulated,” he said.

Physical therapy sessions last 30 minutes to an hour, and most patients visit the flight once or twice a week, Berry said.

“The majority of our patients come for therapy for two or three months, but for a patient who’s had orthopedic surgery, the plan of care will be longer,” he said. “It could be close to a year.”

In addition to attending to their physical therapy duties, members of the flight provide education to active-duty members, civilians and retirees, especially at fitness events such as 5K runs.

“We supervise pre-run warmup exercises for participants and get them thinking about injury prevention,” Berry said.

The flight attends to most beneficiaries seeking treatment, but occasionally they can only accept active-duty patients, Berry said.

“We have a standard of care,” he said. “We have to see patients within 28 days of them being referred to us. When we can’t meet that standard, we only accept active-duty members.”

However, patients who aren’t active-duty members have other options.
“We have a partnership with the San Antonio Military Medical Center and the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, so patients can stay within the military health care system,” Berry said. “But most of the year, we’re able to see everybody who is referred to us. The majority of our referrals are from our patients’ primary care managers, but they’re also from military and civilian orthopedic clinics.”

Helping people is one of the benefits of being a physical therapist, Berry and McCright said.

“I’ve always loved sports,” Berry said. “This falls in line with helping people stay active and do the things they love.”

“The body’s a puzzle you get to figure out,” McCright said. “Patients’ injuries are never the same. When we’re able to get somebody back to running or a parent back to playing with their children, we get to share in that success.”

Berry advised people to see a physical therapist if they are enduring pain – whether it’s from an accident, a sports injury, poor posture or wear and tear over time.

“We’d rather see you earlier than later,” he said. “When you put it off, an injury will not go away. It often gets worse.”

The physical therapy flight at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Medical Clinic is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.