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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.
In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.
The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.
[Image Source: RIC/NWU]
Activity monitors, also known as “activity trackers” or “accelerometers,” provide an easy way to track how much exercise and sleep you get each day, and some even track your diet. Most are small enough to be a convenient, easy way to keep you accountable and on track for getting the recommended amount of exercise each day. They also offer computer and/or smartphone apps for on-the-go tracking. Check out our comparison chart of some of the more popular trackers to find the right one for you and your budget.
Self-myofascial release, commonly known as “foam rolling,” has caught on in gyms and physical therapy clinics—and for good reason. It can help loosen tight muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (the covering of the muscles), increasing your range of motion (that is, how much your muscles and joints can move). Foam rolling can also reduce the muscle soreness that results from working out too hard or too long. One recent study found yet another benefit: If you foam roll before a workout, it can possibly reduce the fatigue you feel during the actual session, thus increasing the length of time that you can exercise or even how hard you work out. How does foam rolling work? More research is needed to understand all its effects, but it is known that muscles have specialized receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs) that are sensitive to changes in muscle tension, so when you roll over them, the muscles relax.
How do you get started? First, check with your doctor to make sure that it’s safe for you to do, and then follow these guidelines:
- Don’t foam roll over recently injured areas.
- More density = more pressure, so choose a low-density foam roller if you are just starting, and then progress to one that’s more dense.
- Foam roll over tension spots you feel in your muscles, or use continuous rolling over a muscle to loosen it.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you roll over each muscle. Generally, one or two minutes per muscle group is recommended if you are just starting.
Maintaining good oral health has long been a challenge for Warfighters. As early as the 4th century BC, Greek historian and soldier Xenophon noted that his fellow warriors had sore, foul-smelling mouths. During World War I, the term “trench mouth” was coined to describe poor oral health among soldiers engaged in trench warfare. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed Warfighters are still at risk for trench mouth—now referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD)—a condition that can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in the mouth. Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career. A variety of factors can contribute to the problem of poor oral health, so we offer a few solutions.
Poor hygiene. Warfighters often have little time for oral hygiene when deployed, and you could fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing. In addition, you may overlook the need to pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss in your personal hygiene kits, making it even more difficult to keep your mouth and teeth clean.
Solution: Be sure to pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, some dental floss, and a travel-size toothbrush in your travel bag and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
Tobacco use. Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by impairing blood flow to your gums, which can cause tooth loss and make you more susceptible to mouth infections. Tobacco use affects other aspects of performance, too.
Solution: It’s never too late to quit—check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
Poor nutrition. Eating right can be challenging in the field. The stress of combat and training missions can dampen your appetite and—let’s face it—MREs aren’t the same as a good, home-cooked meal. But not eating enough food or not eating a variety of foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight infections.
Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of home, they are nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies among Warfighters during training and combat missions. It’s important to eat a variety of MREs and to eat as many of the different components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
Stress. There’s no doubt that stress adversely affects many aspects of performance and overall health, to include dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
Solution: HPRC’s Stress Management section can help you find ways to cope with your stress.
While any one of these factors can contribute to dental problems such as tooth decay, when taken together, they can create a “perfect storm” that can cause serious dental issues such as NPD. Maintaining a good oral-health routine (even when deployed), cutting back on tobacco, eating right, and managing your stress can go a long way toward helping you maintain good oral health and your performance. For more information, look into these tips on oral health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And be sure to take care of your teeth (while you still have them)!
It’s time to get up off the floor and add something new your core-workout routine. Crunches aren’t the only way to strengthen your core. The Human Performance Resource Center now offers a six-video YouTube series on Vertical Core Training. Your core is more than just your abs; it includes other muscles that stabilize your shoulders, hips, and pelvis. Whether it’s lifting ammo cans or loading a truck, a strong core will help you move safely and efficiently. Use these videos to guide you through various exercises that will help improve total core strength and stability for everyday activities and optimal performance. You can also find these videos and other training resources online in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
Many Warfighters exposed to bomb blasts in the field walk away unscathed—or so it would seem. However, there could be some damage they’re not “seeing.”
Many Warfighters survive bomb blasts without obvious injuries, but the high-pressure shockwaves from explosive blasts can cause serious physical damage to a Warfighter’s eyes. In fact, up to 10% of all blast survivors experience significant eye injuries, either from projectiles thrown into their eyes, eye perforations caused by the high-pressure blast waves, or effects on the eyes associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI). If you were exposed to a blast while in the field but were not otherwise injured, don’t wait to set up an appointment with your eye doctor. Your vision is extremely important! Don’t let potential eye injury go untreated. For more information on how blast waves can affect your vision, visit the Vision Center of Excellence.
You’ve been training, and now you’re in pain. It could be you’re having a painful introduction to one of your tendons. Strong tendons connect your muscles to the bones in your body and help you move by pulling on the bones when your muscles contract. Damage to tendons can occur from repetitive activities (including running and firing your weapon repeatedly over an extended period of time) or from sudden movements that put too much stress on a tendon. If you can’t avoid these activities, then pay attention to the warning signs that a tendon could be reaching its breaking point: pain, especially when moving the affected area; swelling over the area of pain; and, possibly, loss of motion in the joint.
The best way to avoid having to get treatment for tendonitis is to prevent it from happening in the first place! Follow these tips:
- Overall health: Maintain a healthy diet and weight, and check out HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
- Posture and body mechanics: Pay attention to your posture and make sure that you use correct body mechanics, especially when lifting and moving heavy objects.
- Maintain adequate muscle strength so your body can react to stresses you place on it.
- Maintain adequate flexibility.
- Consider proper workout gear, especially footwear; check out this HPRC article for more information.
- Activity modification: Rest the affected area. This could mean taking some time off from activities that cause pain and further damage. For example, if you’re a runner with Achilles tendonitis, try biking instead until the tendon has healed enough.
- Ice: Cold can help to decrease pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy: Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as massage, might help but should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Ask your physician about medications that can help your condition.
- Bracing or casting might be needed in severe cases.
You should see your doctor right away if you experience fever, redness, and warmth in the affected area, or multiple sites of pain. For more information on injury prevention, check out HPRC’s “Preventing common injuries,” which covers six specific areas of injury: wrist and hand, knee, ankle, rotator cuff, back, and IT band.
The Marine Corps’ High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) program is becoming more and more popular on Marine bases across the country. HITT is designed to enhance the operational fitness and optimize the combat readiness and resilience of U.S. Marines. You can now access the HITT library of exercises on the go: Download the HITT app from iTunes and Google play today!
Veterans who served in the U.S. and abroad between September 2001 and March 2010 were four times more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing loss. In fact, two of the most common disabilities affecting service members today are hearing loss and tinnitus, says the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCoE). Hearing loss and tinnitus seriously impact force readiness as well as the emotional and social well-being of those affected.
However, not all hearing loss results from the noise pollution Warfighters experience in the field. Many everyday exposures, such as your MP3 player or loud music in your car, can be just as damaging as firearms or helicopters. To maintain good hearing and operational readiness, Warfighters must use safe listening practices at all times. HCoE recommends these safe listening practices:
- Never listen to your MP3 player at maximum volume.
- Following the “60:60” rule: 60 percent maximum volume on your MP3 player for no more than 60 minutes a day.
- Take periodic breaks of 15–20 minutes when listening to loud music to allow your ears to recover.
- Select headphones or earbuds designed to remove background noise.
- Exercise caution when listening to music in the car. Listening in a confined space increases the risk of hearing damage.
- Wear hearing-protection devices such as earplugs at concerts, sporting events, parades, and other high-noise situations.
For more information on how to protect your hearing, as well as treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss, please read this article from HPRC and visit HCoE.
You may not think about your feet much, but you should. The condition of your feet can make or break a ruck march, hike, or any other physical activity, especially ones that involve wearing boots. There are easy steps you can take to keep your feet blister-free, fungus-free, and in optimal shape for the many demands you put on them. Take a few minutes to self-examine your feet for any obvious problems. Military OneSource offers great advice on foot hygiene and the correct use of socks and boots. Something as simple as tying your boots correctly can prevent foot problems down the road!