Air Force Fighter Pilot Units Will Get Personal Therapists to Fight Chronic Pain

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A physical therapist massages a pilot from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, June 22, 2017, in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Damon Kasberg)
A physical therapist massages a pilot from the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, June 22, 2017, in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Damon Kasberg)

Forget the local Massage Envy. A personal masseuse, trainer or conditioning coach could be coming to a fighter pilot base near you.

The U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command is looking to provide more personalized health care for its fighter pilots due to neck and back issues that have plagued aviators for years as a result of long mission flights and ejections out of aircraft.

Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, disclosed the news during a live gaming session in which he played "Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown" with his son, 1st Lt. Wade Holmes, last month.

Holmes, who said he's suffered neck and back pain from G-forces over the last decade, explained that the service is trying to incorporate more physical therapists in squadrons so pilots do not become physically worn down from years of flying.

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"As Gen. Holmes discussed, the Air Force is looking into ways to incorporate more preventative medical care for pilots," ACC spokeswoman Leah Garton told Military.com in a recent email.

"Based on pilot survey data, back and neck pain is an issue within the fighter aircrew population. ACC is working to place more contract athletic trainers, massage therapists, [and] strength and conditioning coaches in fighter units," she said. "This initiative involves prevention [and] pre-rehabilitation through strength training, overall fitness and early management of neck and back strain."

As the implementation moves forward, more information will become available, Garton said, adding that the first therapists will be embedded in fighter squadrons beginning in spring 2020.

Similar efforts are underway for airmen in other career fields. Both Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Special Operations Command have brought in personal coaches to aid in physical therapy and training techniques, officials have said in recent months.

Additionally, by Oct. 1, Air Force Basic Military Training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, hopes to introduce "embedded sports medicine" into its program.

"Embedded sports medicine will put a specifically trained exercise physiologist in every single squadron so that they can train both our permanent party staff and be there to coach and counsel our trainees relating to what 'right' looks like when it comes to the science of exercise," Col. Jason Corrothers, 737th Training Group and BMT commander, said in a recent interview.

That includes injury prevention and injury rehabilitation "so that we don't have to remove somebody from the training flight unnecessarily," Corrothers said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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