ARCHIVED - Physical Fitness: A Key Factor in the Recovery of Ill and Injured Soldiers

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Article / January 6, 2015 / Project number: 14-0271

Oromocto, New Brunswick — To help encourage the successful recovery of soldiers, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has bolstered resources available through increased services within the medical services provided, as well as improved programs available through its Personnel Support Programs (PSPs).

“The Canadian Army values the discipline, commitment, leadership, teamwork and perseverance developed through a fitness regime. In addition to fostering a sound body and a warrior spirit, our robust sports and fitness programs boost morale and help build wellness and resilience,” explained Lieutenant-General Marquis Hainse, Commander Canadian Army.

The warrior spirit that is contained within every CAF soldier is what those who are progressing through the various stages of recovery need to engage, in order to be successful. Sergeant Cory Matush, a reservist on contract with Combat Training Centre Headquarters, cannot stress enough that recovery requires “the aggressive pursuit of proper physical activities during all stages of the recovery process.” 

In 2009, Sgt Matush dislocated his knee during unit physical training (PT), causing severe damage to the supporting structure of the knee that took three years from which to recover. After sustaining the injury, Sgt Matush, an active martial artist, immediately engaged the medical system and began physiotherapy.

“Physiotherapy can only take you so far,” Sgt Matush explained. “They can help repair the ligaments and tendons as much as possible and return basic functionality, but the onus was on me to strengthen the knee and slowly build back up to the point where I could run, ruck and participate in martial arts again.”

In cases such as with Sgt Matush, soldiers are usually referred to the Personal Exercise Specialist (PES) or Regional Adapted Fitness Specialist (RAFTS) programs that are run by PSP. “Injuries affect everyone in different ways,” said Stephanie Haynes, the PES at 5th Canadian Division Support Base (5CDSB) Gagetown.  “Members who are referred to me may be motivated and ready to begin rehabilitation, while other members may be suffering from depression and loss of motivation.  It is our job to educate, motivate and enable our clients.” 

PES and RAFTS coordinators are responsible for creating physical fitness programs that are both beneficial and challenging to their clients. “The benefits of returning to physical fitness as soon as possible for ill and injured members are too great to ignore,” said Ms Haynes.

“PT helps our clients to better improve their pain management and symptoms, while decreasing depression and anxiety and helping maintain a healthy body while they recover,” Ms Haynes added. “One of the challenges we face is creating a PT program that works around the injuries, yet challenges the client up to their limits.”

Physical fitness is equally important for soldiers recovering from Operational Stress Injuries (OSIs).  “[Exercise] serves as a time-out from stressful thoughts and feelings,” said Krista Grant, the RAFTS at 5CDSB Gagetown.  “Exercise involves focusing on the body to distract you from your daily worries.” 

PT furthers the ability for soldiers to recover from OSIs by forcing them to focus completely on the exercises they are conducting.  “Increased endorphin output caused by exercise act as mood enhancers,” Ms Grant explained. “When members engage in physical activities they enjoy, we see the greatest increase in mood and mood state which is important to the recovery process.”

For Ms Grant, it is important to “have a healthy body and mind as well as early and regular communication. In so doing, the member is provided with the utmost care to re-integrate them into their unit, or establish the ease into transition should they choose another life path.”

When asked for advice for recovering soldiers, Sgt Matush emphasizes that “whether a soldier is recovering from a physical injury, mental illness or both, there is one resounding piece of advice that rings true: keep moving.”

 

By Second Lieutenant Shane Albers

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