NEWS | March 16, 2019

Army Physical Therapist Aims to Prevent, Treat, and Heal

By Sgt. Liane Hatch 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division

Mondays are for ability group runs. Wednesdays are sprints. Thursday means a ruck march. And Friday? More running.

Soldiers know how to run – sometimes far, sometimes fast, and sometimes in formation. But 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Physical Therapist, Cpt. Anthony Williams, is concerned that maybe Soldiers don’t actually know how to run well. The ankle, shin, knee, and hip injuries he sees so frequently suggest he may be right.

And so, with a directive from the Army not only to treat patients, but to build unit readiness by preventing injury, Williams developed a running and gait analysis class. The intention, he said, is to arm Soldiers with the knowledge to fix their own faults before deficiencies turn into injuries.

“It’s like brushing your teeth,” Williams said. “The best time to brush your teeth is not after you get a cavity – the cavity is already there, and brushing isn’t going to fix it. In the same way, it’s important for Soldiers to practice good technique and running mechanics before they get injured, but they don’t always have that knowledge of how to do that.”

Though he had conducted some running classes at Fort Carson, when the unit deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Spartan Shield, Williams took the initiative to make the classes a regular occurrence. Soldiers often use deployments as an opportunity to get into better shape, he said, and while he encourages those goals, he also understands that increases in running and weight lifting may lead to pain or injury.

In Williams’ class, he instructs each Soldier to run on the treadmill at a pace with which he or she could pass a PT test. While the Soldier runs, Williams crouches down and uses his tablet to video record their legs and feet in motion, looking for things like foot positioning, strike patterns, cadence. After each Soldier has had a chance to run, the group heads to the physical therapy tent to talk about what Williams observed and what corrections Soldiers can make.

Cadence, for example. Running cadence, Williams said, is the number of times one’s feet strike the ground in one minute of running. The standard he recommends is 180 steps per minute – considerably higher than that of most of the class participants. One suggestion he made was for Soldiers to practice running to a metronome. Eventually, he said, that cadence will become natural.

He also took a look at the shoes each runner wore, and evaluated what might suit them better.

At the moment, Williams is teaching one running and gait analysis class per week, specifically for Soldiers who are referred through their health care provider for running-related pain. However, he said, as he fine-tunes the class, he’s looking to conduct them more frequently, or possibly even open them up to specific units.

In addition to the classes, Williams has been hosting a shoe selection clinic at the Camp Buehring Post Exchange, to help Soldiers make better-informed decisions about what shoes to wear for running.

Caring for Soldiers, Williams said, means equipping them to care for themselves.

“I want each minute I spend with patients to be relatable and personable because for me it’s important that they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and that they understand their own personal role in getting better. It’s a genuine concern about changing that paradigm to how they can care for themselves.”