Think of your favorite professional athlete or sports team. Now think of the daily training that is required of them. Their full-time job is to be at their peak physical performance to score the most goals, clock the quickest speeds, run the fastest mile, squat the highest weight. At the professional level, these athletes have endless resources available to them in order to accomplish these goals: coaches, trainers, dietitians, physical therapists, massage therapists, and state-of-the-art equipment. Millions of dollars are invested to ensure these athletes’ bodies are kept in optimal performing condition.
The “tactical athlete” refers to persons who routinely perform physically demanding and athletic tasks as part of his or her occupation, including fire fighters, police officers, and military personnel. Individuals in these occupations are exposed to variable and unpredictable physical demands. Therefore, they require specific and unique training and rehabilitation interventions in order to optimize on the job performance and to reduce their risk of injury. In contrast to what we think of as traditional athletes, those participating in high school, collegiate, or professional sports, the tactical athlete must perform intense physical tasks in changing and unpredictable environments: Lifting heavy loads from awkward positions, running up flights of smoke-filled stairs, carrying cots and transporting patients multiple times a day, all while wearing 60+ lbs of gear.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the leading cause of injury in fire fighters is due to overexertion or strain, constituting 27% of all injuries sustained in 2016. Of all injuries sustained, 30.1% resulted in time-off work. The annual U.S. fire service injury and injury prevention costs have been estimated at $2.8 to $7.8 billion. Recent literature on injury incidence in police officers revealed an incidence of 240-250 per 1000 personnel and average cost per injury ranging from $2500 to $12000. So, what role would a physical therapist have in helping to reduce injury and thus reduce costs from injuries sustained by first responders?
Physical therapists are increasingly having a role in developing injury-prevention and specialized rehabilitation programs for the tactical athlete. In Denver, Colorado, physical therapist Daniel Jonte began a pilot program in 2016 aimed at the treatment and rehabilitation of police officers and fire fighters. The program worked to not only treat current injuries sustained by personnel on the job, but also worked towards injury prevention and strengthening. In the first month of the program, Jonte treated 46 patients. In the second month, he treated 135 patients. Now, Jonte sees an average of 150 first responders a month. In the time since the program was started, the city has seen a reduction of workers compensation costs of $8 million!
Incorporating programs similar to the one in Denver would not only be beneficial for our first responders, keeping them healthier and safer, but would also ultimately benefit our city by saving money and time lost from worker’s compensation claims. It seems like a no brainer that we should be prioritizing resources and funds to help protect those who risk their lives each and every day for us. Providing physical therapy support to these men and women is just one way to give back to those who give so much- Let us protect our protectors.
#protectourprotectors #apta #physicaltherapy #spts #tacticalathletes
Written by: Dr. Cait McBee, PT, DPT
Thank you to the Evendale Fire Department for allowing us to take photographs of your equipment and explaining their uses.