“Stacked up outside the room you have just identified a red zone right! Your battle buddy is right there, he is ready. Swiftly, you move into the room, clunk, the F89 you are carrying has a stoppage. Now you take the enemy on, hand to hand, you move in for the takedown. He kicks, you move to dodge but he catches your leg, pain shoots up your body while your knee buckles awkwardly. It’s just a dislocation you tell yourself, and it looks like its back in position so you press on. Three days later, after an MRI and multiple X-rays the Doc sits you down; He tells you that you have done a lot of damage to your knee, you will need surgery and it’s going to take six months or more to rehabilitate.”
No one plans for an injury, but during a career in the Army there is a real possibility that an injury will occur. It could be as simple as a sprain while running or something more sinister like the training scenario described above. There are lots of procedures in place within the Army to rehabilitate you back to your job, but all of these processes rely on each individual to do the work to get back to full health. Procedures will guide you through your rehabilitation, but it is where these procedures end that the strength of the individual begins. There are a few considerations that will ensure that you give yourself the best chance of returning to work; both physically and mentally prepared and robust enough to prevent further injury.
As stated before, none of us plan for a personal injury, but maybe we should. Now I don’t mean to assume you might find an injury to get out of Exercise HAMEL, but rather to make yourself as resistant to injury and the effects of injury as much as you can. In physical terms, injury resilience is about being strong and flexible; talking to a Physical Training Instructor (PTI) about a personal program to improve your weaknesses will go a long way to making you a more resilient soldier. This doesn’t mean just hitting the beach muscles in the gym, but using the PTI’s expertise to improve your overall strength and fitness.
The organ that we need to use most is our brain. Taking the time to build a knowledge base in order to understand the needs of the body including learning techniques to improve flexibility, strength and conditioning is necessary. If everyone could learn how to write their own program, this would improve their understanding of the whole process, and this would be excellent. However, if you don’t yet have this level of knowledge then use the PTIs. Use these subject matter experts to gain as much information as possible, they are very knowledgeable and most love sharing their expertise and educating soldiers.
Building the mental capability to spring back from an injury is also important. When dealing with injuries there are quite often mental issues that will surface due to the change in your circumstances. There are two main factors that can help with the build-up of resilience to mental threats. The first is participating in situations that are challenging. The Army in general is good at this and will put you through hell in order to achieve good robust training; remember resilience is developed when the job is at its hardest. The other factor is having a place to let your mind rest. What is meant by rest is not sitting down and doing nothing but rather undertaking a hobby or activity that is enjoyed to the point where you are calm and where mind and body move as one. It is when you are consumed by the activity and nothing exists but the task at hand. Be it reading, soccer, driving or chess, it is about having a place away from work to escape.
The biggest determinant to a successful rehabilitation is the type of injury, with the second biggest being attitude. If individuals are motivated, willing to put in the work and follow the advice of professionals, the chances of a successful rehabilitation are greatly increased. It is important to say that going against expert advice and rushing to return to work is the surest way to stay injured for longer. So, what can you do? Engage with the people who are providing the rehabilitation; find all the one percenters, the extra exercise that will strengthen the muscles around that aggravating joint, the pressure point that can be hit five times a day to reduce the pain from exercise, the stretch that will increase flexibility. Once you know what they recommend, spend every moment possible to work through the program. Letting a day of non-training go by isn’t a big deal but letting that snowball into days will often lead to set backs that mean recovery takes twice as long and opens the door for further injuries.
We would all like to think that we are super human and would be able to focus on rehabilitation 24/7 until we are back to 100%, but the truth is that most of us need some form of mental stimulation or job satisfaction to maintain mental acuity. As stated before, if your hobby is something that can be done while injured then this is a great time to maintain your involvement, but work should also not be overlooked. Infantry soldiers may not be able to conduct a section attack but may still be useful to their platoon or company in other ways. Find opportunities to be an active part of the team. Team commanders will have things that need to be done that they will be more than happy to have you help. It may be a good opportunity for you to gain new skills outside of your job, trade or role; be it admin, intelligence or work in the Q Store. The main point is that you involve yourself in the unit’s activities and are able to add your input to complete the mission.
Talk to your mates. It is important to continue to be engaged with your community. Not everyone knows what injuries look like or what those people are going through. Simply by letting them know how you feel may open their eyes to where you are and how you are tracking (be it good or bad). Don’t expect them to magically and instantly understand when they still have their own mission and life to get on with. It is why you need to maintain open lines of communication. If you are really struggling please seek help. Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) is an extremely valuable resource that will allow anyone to tell their story to a sympathetic ear that is at arm’s length to the Army. Once they have listened, if required they have the qualifications and skills to give you advice to get you back on a good path.
During rehabilitation make the most of the opportunity to learn about yourself and your injury. If already a gym nut this may mean that it is more injury specific, learning exactly what happened and potentially what the cause was and how to maintain your body to prevent further injury. Building holistic resilience to prevent further degradation of your newly rehabilitated injury will also help prevent further injuries. Post rehabilitation is mostly about consolidating the knowledge that you have learned during your rehabilitation. This means developing and maintaining a routine that maintains fitness, protects the injury and promotes your mental health and wellbeing. This should look a lot like prehab, however, now there will be a slight focus on the previous injury site. This is the time to continue building the brain and learning.
Prevention is better than cure. Taking the time to build fitness to a level beyond that which is asked of you will develop a buffer. While this will not prevent all injuries, it will at least make any comeback much easier. Mental health is just as important as physical health and getting it right early will keep you moving forward during the hard moments as you rehabilitate. Lastly, grow individual knowledge. Do it before it becomes a necessity, do it while you rehabilitate and do it once you have returned to work. Understanding how to prepare, rehabilitate and maintain the body to a high standard will improve your life and Army capability. Own your life, don’t let it own you.
About the author: Corporal Ben Groth has been supervising injured trainees at the Trainee Rehabilitation Wing (TRW) since 2016. Previously he was posted to the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He became interested in dedicated injury management after his wife was injured in 2014 and attended the Townsville Soldier Recovery Centre. He has found his time at TRW very rewarding, having seen many of the trainees successfully returned to their training establishments.