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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

Injury prevention Part 6 – Hands and wrists

Even if you haven’t experienced carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ve probably heard of it. For more about this condition and ways to keep your hands and wrists pain-free, read on.

If you’ve been experiencing pain, burning, numbness, or tingling in one or both of your hands, you might be experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This “tunnel” in the wrist carries the important tendons and nerves that supply your hands with motor and sensory functions, allowing your hands to move and feel. Swelling inside the carpal tunnel can squeeze the median nerve that passes through it, causing discomfort. According to the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database, in the military, women are more likely than men to develop this condition. It’s also more likely to develop with age and rank. There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome, but as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The University of Maryland Medical Center has advice, which includes:

  1. Do exercises to keep your muscles and tendon flexible. (See the UMMC link above for detailed instructions.)
  2. When performing repetitive activities your the wrists and hands, take frequent breaks, even if it’s just for a minute or two at a time—called “microbreaks.”
  3. Use correct posture and technique, especially wrist position when using a keyboard or hand tools.
  4. Make sure that your work area is ergonomically sound. Military-specific information is available from both the Army Public Health Command and the Naval Safety Center.

HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain also has a section on Injury Prevention.

Total Force Fitness, HPRC, and your family

Learn tips for strengthening your family from a Total Force Fitness perspective from a recently released DoD Crisis Support Guide.

The recently released report from the Department of Defense, “Supporting Military Families In Crisis,” offers information for families about what to do in a crisis as well as how to prevent crises. The guide focuses on suicide prevention, following the Total Force Fitness perspective, but the information applies to many other areas of military family life, especially the section titled “Building a Resilient Family.” HPRC can help your family with many of their suggestions:

  • Keep your mind fit: Check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain for how to go about it.
  • Build resilience through coping skills and other strategies: Find information on building resilience in the Mental Resilience section of Mind Tactics.
  • Foster a sense of belonging: Try the resources in the Relationship Enhancement and Family Resilience sections of HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
  • Train year-round: Find ideas for getting the most out of your workouts from the Performance Strategies in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
  • Be aware of your world: Learn specific strategies for coping with extreme environments—heat, cold, high altitude, and more—in HPRC’s Environment domain.
  • Eat your way healthy: Learn how to fuel your body for optimal performance with HPRC’s Nutrition domain.

And to learn how to bring all these aspects together for individual and family resilience in the face of any crisis, spend some time cruising HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

A veggie-hater’s guide to good eating

Hate veggies? Here are some tips for easy ways to work vegetables into your diet.

For optimal health and performance, Warfighters should try to eat at least six servings of vegetables (about three cups) every day. It’s tough, though, when you really don’t like vegetables. Here are some tips to help even die-hard veggie-haters work a few vegetables into their diets:

  • Add vegetables to foods you already love! Macaroni and cheese, pizza, spaghetti sauce, soup, and omelets are great vehicles for spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, and other dreaded veggies. (Many of the vegetables in the MREs are hidden this way!)
  • Grill your vegetables! Grilling adds those familiar flavors that we love so much. You can even baste them with your favorite low-fat marinade for extra flavor. Too cold to grill outside? Roasting vegetables in the oven makes many bitter-tasting vegetables taste sweeter.
  • Drink up! You can find lots of tasty vegetable juices in grocery stores nowadays. Look for lower-sodium versions or the vegetable-fruit juice blends. You can even custom-blend your own by mixing bottled carrot juice with your favorite fruit juice.
  • Get adventurous! Just because you hated something as a kid doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way about it as an adult. Give vegetables another try—you might be surprised how tasty they really are.

Of course, these tips work for picky family members, too. How many vegetables should they eat? That depends—on their age, sex, and activity level. This chart from the USDA will guide you.

New DoD publication kicks off Suicide Prevention Month

Check out “Supporting Military Families in Crisis: A Guide to Help You Prevent Suicide,” just released by the Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense has dedicated September to building awareness around suicide prevention. DoD has kicked off the campaign with a new Crisis Support Guide for Military Families—“Supporting Military Families in Crisis: A Guide to Help You Prevent Suicide”—that addresses suicide prevention, including warning signs, risk factors, and what to do in an emergency. Although the focus is on what families can do to help Warfighters at risk, there is advice for individuals too. Highlights include things you can do to take action: offering support, promoting a healthy lifestyle (caring for yourself, too!), and different treatment approaches that could help.

For more resources, go to HPRC’s section on suicide prevention.

Injury Prevention Part 5 – The IT Band

The iliotibial band isn’t a piece of equipment—it’s a strong band of tissue that connects your thigh to your lower leg, and it’s prone to overuse injuries.

If you start to notice hip or knee pain during your PT runs, you might be experiencing iliotibial band friction syndrome—ITBFS for short—a common overuse injury. The iliotibial band, or IT band, is a thick band of fibrous tissue that extends down the outside of your thigh to where it attaches to your tibia (your larger lower-leg bone). As with all injuries to muscles and tendons, prevention is key. In most cases, ITBFS is brought on by combinations of factors—such as increasing your training mileage too fast, running on banked surfaces or downhill, pre-existing IT band tightness, and weakness of the lateral hip muscles—so paying attention to all of these is important for prevention. Incorporate some of these methods into your daily routine to help prevent ITBFS:

  • A hip-conditioning program, as recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, can help you prevent ITBFS.
  • Self-myofascial release methods such as foam rolling can be helpful with this hard-to-stretch area of your leg.
  • Don’t do too much too soon. Gradually increase your running mileage or workout intensity. Guidelines for healthy adults include: (1) Increase the duration of your exercise program 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks; or (2) increase your weekly training volume by no more than 10% per week.
  • Stretches for the IT band and other muscles of the thigh and lower leg should be held for 30 seconds and repeated three to five times daily.

If you already have ITBFS, you probably notice more pain in the lateral (outside) hip or knee when you run downhill or when lengthen your stride. If left untreated, it also can lead to pain when you walk up and down stairs or sit for long periods of time with your knees flexed. Of course, you should consult with your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment. On your own, however, care usually includes the RICE and ISE methods.

Allowing time for the iliotibial band to heal is important for full recovery, so consider an alternative training routine (take a break from running and cycling) or take time off altogether. As the inflammation subsides, it may help to add stretching and strengthening exercises.

Want a “combat edge”? Get more sleep.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
This year’s Warrior Resilience Conference highlighted how sleep is an essential for performance!

Sleep is essential for optimal performance! The recent Warrior Resilience Conference V hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury included a session called “Scheduling Sleep – A Clear Mind, A Combat Edge,” which highlighted how sleep is critically important to:

  • Memory
  • Creativity
  • Decision-making
  • Moral judgment
  • Health

All of these have a serious impact on performance—not only for Warfighters, but for everyone. Lack of sleep is also linked to increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, depression, substance abuse, weight gain, heart and kidney disease, reduced immune response, and loss of focus. Make it a goal to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and reap the performance and health benefits.

Check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section for more information.

Tips for combating loneliness

Feeling isolated or alone isn’t a recipe for resilience. Learn ways to overcome isolation.

There may be times in your life when you feel isolated or all alone. Connecting with people can help you find meaning in life, feel better, improve your mood, and beat boredom. Afterdeployment.org has a tip sheet—“Beating Isolation”—with ideas for how to overcome loneliness that include making plans to hang out with someone, reaching out to people you know, and getting involved in your community.

Turn on your body’s “relaxation response”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Turn on your body’s natural relaxation response through specific techniques you can learn to do.

The “relaxation response” is your body’s counterpart to the stress response you feel during critical situations. As the name suggests, the relaxation response has a calming effect on your mental and physical state, with benefits that include less anxiety, a more positive mood, a sense of calmness and well-being, and reduced heart rate, breathing and metabolic rates, blood pressure, and muscle tension.

Sound good? You can learn how to use your body’s relaxation response for health and well-being. Various mind-body techniques such as deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai-chi, and qigong all train you to turn this response on. Practicing these mind-body techniques has been found to help with anxiety and depression, as well as physical conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.

To learn more about mind-body techniques, check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.

Capitalizing on good news

Learn how “capitalizing” on good news can help build stronger relationships.

In relationships, “capitalization” refers to the process of sharing good news with one another. It’s easy to sympathize with buddies when times are tough, but studies have shown that responding to good news with support and enthusiasm helps build stronger relationships between individuals. So remember to receive good news from coworkers, friends, and family with enthusiasm. It can not only strengthen your relationships but also create a positive environment.

For more information on building strong relationships, check out the Family & Relationships domain.

Injury Prevention Part 4 – The Back

Back pain is common among military personnel. Follow these tips to maintain a healthy back and stay at the top of your game.

A 2011 study of musculoskeletal injuries in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan found that low back pain due to stress and strain on the back (not actual spinal cord injuries) was the most common complaint. Common causes of back injury include overuse, poor physical conditioning, and incorrect body movements when lifting and moving objects. Fortunately you can decrease your chances of injuring the muscles and ligaments of your back. The key is prevention: Stretching is one way to help prevent lower back pain, but it’s essential to use correct posture and body mechanics when you pick up and move objects such as heavy ammo cans! Daily back exercises (from the Mayo Clinic) and stretches can help strengthen your core and improve your posture, and the University of Maryland offers more valuable tips for prevention. If you’re experiencing back pain, however, you need to see a qualified healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and exercise program.

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