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Meditation strategies to manage pain

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Tap the power of your mind—manage pain through the practice of meditation.

Pain is a sensation of both the body and the mind—and it’s within your power to use strategies such as meditation to control the mental aspect to decrease the physical sensation of pain. Meditation can teach you to have a focused, calm mind, and rhythmic breathing. It may sound easy, but it requires practice. The payoffs can be improved well-being, reduced pain, and relaxation. Want to know more? Check out HPRC’s new Pain Management section, where you can find strategies such as meditation that you can use on your own or with the help of a healthcare provider.

Take some weight off your knees—or pay the price

A 2012 study demonstrated that an increase in body mass index (BMI) increased a person’s chance of sustaining a non-contact ACL injury.

Being overweight puts you at risk for a whole host of health issues, but most people don’t think about the risk posed to their knees. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the major ligaments of the knee and one of the most susceptible to injury. Injury information on more than 1,600 men and women at the U.S. Naval Academy showed that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) had a greater incidence of ACL tears. A difference in BMI of only 1.2 (25.6 versus 24.4) made the difference between having and not having this kind of injury. (To learn more about BMI, read HPRC's explanation.)

Like the adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” knees are something we generally take for granted. To stay on top of your game, you need your knees. An easy way to protect them is to drop the extra weight you’re asking them to carry around.

Healing through scuba

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Scuba diving is being used to help wounded warriors get back in the swim of things and on with life.

Physical and mental rehab for wounded warriors can come in the form of an undersea adventure. A 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University looked at the effects of a four-day scuba certification class on a group of veterans with spinal injuries. The benefits noted included improved muscle movements, reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improved sensitivity/sensation for those with certain spinal cord injuries.

Being in the water offers a zero-gravity environment that enables Warfighters to develop the confidence and ability to do activities they may not feel comfortable doing on land. There are organizations that provide scuba lessons and outings for wounded veterans and their families free of charge, such as Adaptive Heroes, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), and Divers4Heroes, to name a few. Check for programs in your area and explore the great unknown!

“MATs”—The future of injury prevention in the military?

The Army hopes to minimize injuries and optimize performance by investing early in the health of its soldiers with Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs).

Injury prevention is the key to optimizing soldier-athlete performance, which is why Fort Benning deployed Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs) to their 194th Armored Brigade and their 198th Infantry Brigade as part of a two-year pilot study. The MATs consist of physical therapists, physical therapy technicians, athletic trainers, and strength-conditioning coaches. MATs have three main principles: injury prevention, precision PRT, and human performance optimization. The MATs offer basic trainees injury screenings, early treatment of minor injuries, and instruction on proper training technique. Trainees are also given guidance on correct footwear, management skills, and strategies to prevent common exercise mistakes that may lead to injury, as well as briefings on subjects like nutrition and preventative exercises.

The aim of this study is to educate soldier athletes. By learning to manage your own health and fitness, you’re more prepared to complete your mission safely. The goal: You and your fellow soldier athletes should have less need for medical treatment facilities because you’ll be equipped with your own preventative strategies, which you can use throughout your career. This study is also being conducted at Fort Ill, OK, Fort Lee, VA, and Fort Leonard, MO. The study will wrap up in April 2013, at which time the researchers will evaluate the results.

New from HPRC: Pain Management

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
An entirely new section has just been added to HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain: Pain Management. It includes articles and resources to help Warfighters who need to manage pain—long-term and chronic.

Almost every Warfighter experiences pain at some point in his or her military career, but for many it can be a long or even chronic experience. Sometimes the treatment of pain is relatively straightforward, but at other times it needs a holistic treatment plan. And it’s no longer just a question of taking a pill. The DoD and VHA are exploring a range of alternative treatments for pain, including biofeedback, acupuncture, and various mind-body strategies that have been shown to be promising. HPRC’s new Pain Management section gives you an introduction to a variety of strategies you can do by yourself or with your doctor, and it points you to information and tools to help you understand and deal with your pain.

Add some water to your workout

Try changing up your exercise routine; give your body a break with a challenging pool workout.

Water/pool workouts and swimming are great ways to give aching joints a break or recover from an injury and still get in a good workout. Exercising in the water provides the same aerobic fitness benefits as exercising on land. In fact, exercising in water may be less work for your heart; it pumps out more blood per beat, and heart rates are slightly slower. What’s more, pressure from the water speeds blood flow back to your heart, where your blood gets the oxygen that your muscles need during exercise.

Aquatic exercise is great for most people, including older and younger folks. Consider jumping in a pool to reduce stress and the risk for overuse injuries and as an alternative to your usual exercise routine.

Meditation can improve pain tolerance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Recent research indicates that meditation may help you deal with pain and related anxiety.

When you’re in pain, any relief is welcome. The good news is that researchers have found pain can be managed and alleviated, to a degree, by employing strategies that have you put your focus elsewhere. Meditation is one such strategy. A recent small study examined the experience of pain from fourteen experienced meditators and fourteen inexperienced participants. It turns out that the old adage is true: Practice makes perfect. The experienced meditators experienced pain to a lesser degree and got used to the pain more quickly. They also registered less anxiety than the unpracticed participants. The message? Practicing meditation regularly may improve how your brain handles pain.

For more information see the write-up on the University of Wisconsin's news page or the research article.

And tune in again later for HPRC’s new section in Total Force Fitness on pain management—coming soon.

Operation Bushmaster

Operation Bushmaster, a field training exercise for medical students, reminds us that both physical and mental performance are key aspects of success for military healthcare practitioners.

In October 2012, students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in Operation Bushmaster at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The exercise involved a simulated combat environment to test the limits of their physical fitness as well as mental resilience. Military medical students were tasked with managing patient flow in an operational environment, such as tactical relocation over uneven terrain and dealing with changes in environmental conditions.

From a human performance optimization (HPO) standpoint, take-home points for the practical exercise included the importance of being physically fit, especially following guidelines for the prevention of back injuries, and implementing mental strategies for coping in high stress situations.

CHAMP and HPRC host a conference on functional movement assessment

CHAMP and HPRC are hosting a conference in conjunction with ACSM and NASM on September 10–11, 2012, on “Preventing Injury through Functional Movement Assessment: What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and Where We Go From Here.”

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a tool used to evaluate how people move and identify patterns that could increase the risk of being injured. In a 2011 study conducted by the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP), researchers found that FMS scores indicated an individual’s risk for injury. A summary of the most current information published on functional movement assessment demonstrates that the FMS is a reliable tool but that more research is needed. The upcoming CHAMP/HPRC conference will explore the role of functional movement assessment in preventing injury and enabling Warfighters to return to duty quickly, and will highlight areas for future research. Topics focus on the Warrior Athlete and civilian athletic communities, and include the epidemiology of musculoskeletal injuries, functional fitness and movement patterns, and current concepts in, as well as future research considerations for functional assessment tools.

Back in action: Regaining peak fitness

Getting back into shape takes dedication and persistence, and doing so safely and correctly may help prevent injuries.

For whatever reason, sometimes we get off track with our fitness regimens—maybe it was an injury, a move, or just life that intervened. Getting back to a peak level of fitness after time away should be done gradually. Injuries such as tendonitis—which could become a long term issue—can occur as a result of doing too much, too fast. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends increasing duration (minutes of exercise) 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks of an exercise program.

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