His call sign was “Lurch.” He was a lieutenant colonel from Indiana, deployed overseas in 2016 to augment our U.S. Air Force 190th fighter squadron. A dedicated, veteran pilot who didn’t like to complain, Lurch would be in excruciating pain after every sortie, or aircraft mission, over the combat zone in his A-10.
Spending six to seven hours harnessed into position and looking out of the side window, his neck would lock up so that he couldn’t even turn his head. Eventually, Lurch felt he couldn’t fly at peak performance and was possibly compromising the mission. Reluctantly, he came to ask to be taken off the next sortie.
This kind of case could result in a one to two-week period of rest and relaxation with pain medication and rehabilitation. In other words, downtime out of the cockpit. However, after just four to five minutes of osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), Lurch showed dramatic improvement and was ready for his next sortie.
OMT has helped countless members of our military swiftly return to duty without medication or extensive recuperation time. While on deployment in 2016, when I treated Lurch, I provided OMT to 10 to 12 airmen each day. We never missed a single sortie because of somatic complaints while I was there. There are many other DOs operating in austere environments who have similar success with minor interventions.
But at this time, OMT is not widely available across the military to help keep more personnel in fighting form. One challenge we face in the military is that these interventions occur in silos, where a DO is co-deployed. Once that person is transferred, the treatment options go with them.
Yet when OMT is available, soldiers from other platoons, squadrons or flights will migrate to that provider. During one previous deployment we set up an “International Back Pain Clinic” and it rapidly became the most utilized clinic on the base. Military members from other countries even sought treatment.
To make manipulation more widely available, the Association of Military Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons recommends that a field manual and training program be developed to teach medical personnel basic manipulation techniques based on OMT.
In just a matter of days, medical professionals could learn the rudiments of simple manipulation interventions–such as muscle energy, myofascial manipulation and strain/counterstrain—and carry those skills wherever they might be stationed. This training would increase access, decrease downtime and ultimately improve military medicine and performance in the battle arena.