Robins physical therapists: Keeping Airmen fit to fight

  • Published
  • By Kisha Foster Johnson
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office

When Capt. Sara Silva, 78th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physical therapist, consults with her patients at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, she is always empathetic.

“I had many injuries growing up being an athlete,” said Silva. “My senior year of high school I injured my knee and I couldn’t play in anything the remainder of the year. So, I know what it’s like to be sidelined.

“I was putting a lot of trust in other professionals to help me,” she continued. “Now, I can help others in a similar position of confusion or who don’t understand what’s going on with their bodies. Educating them helps alleviate anxiety and stress.”

That’s what pushed her to pursue a career in physical therapy.

Silva also serves as the Human Performance Optimization Flight commander. The HPO consists of physical therapy, optometry and health promotion.

Collectively, each section helps the warfighter by enhancing physical health readiness, physical performance through strength and conditioning, injury prevention, and patient education.

“Our job is to improve the deployability rate of Robins Airmen,” said David Lunsford, 78th OMRS physical therapist. “Whatever pain or ailment the patient is experiencing we want to stop it or get it under control so they can function and be fit to fight.”

Lunsford has worked at Robins nearly five years.

“We see a variety of injuries that can be related to sitting too long, wearing weighted gear, or repetitive movements from using certain tools like wrenches. A lot of what we will see is from work-related grind over the years,” he said.

Besides exercise machines, weights and resistance bands, the facility has a NASA-designed AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill to help rehabilitate Airmen. It results in faster recovery and minimizes impact on joints when walking or running.

Alternative forms of therapy are also offered, such as dry needling and cupping.

“If an Airman is dealing with muscle pain, those two techniques could help offer relief,” said Silva. “Dry needling is similar to acupuncture where small needles are inserted through the skin to relieve muscle pain, and cupping works by placing a cup on the patient’s skin to create suction to help with blood flow.”

Lunsford appreciates the flexibility to create individualized treatment plans for each patient.

“When I worked in the private sector, physical therapy was very constrained by what insurance companies would allow you to do and how long you could do it,” he said. “However, here at Robins we have the freedom to try different methods and decide how long to try it or change our effort to help a patient heal.

“It’s a good feeling to help Airmen recover and live pain free,” Lunsford continued. “This is a rewarding job because, ultimately, the Airmen are trying to protect us.”