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News | Sept. 1, 2020

Fort Drum physical therapy staff enhances skills with McKenzie Method

By Warren W. Wright Jr, Fort Drum MEDDAC Public Affairs

Musculoskeletal injuries account for more than half of the non-deployable military population, representing approximately 19 percent of all lost work time across the U.S. military.  Of those, one of the most common complaints is that of lower back pain.  To combat the growing number of injuries and help Soldiers get back into the fight sooner, the physical therapy clinic at Fort Drum’s Guthrie Army Health Clinic hosted a three-day lumbar spine training course designed to increase clinical skillsets.
The training was the first part of the McKenzie Method of mechanical diagnosis and therapy, a four-part course “scientifically proven assessment process that identifies the best treatment solution for back, neck and extremity problems,” according to the McKenzie Institute website.
The value of the course “is that it’s a reliable assessment and you can accurately determine the classification for the patient, their prognoses and how to help the patient,” said Capt. Paul Kuwik, the Fort Drum Medical Activity’s chief of physical therapy.  “It’s particularly useful in an expeditionary setting where you’re deployed, or you’re in a field environment, you have limited resources, and you have to make a quick decision about the prognoses of a Soldier.”
Instructing the McKenzie Institute course was Dana Greene, a practicing physical therapist out of Syracuse, New York and McKenzie Institute senior instructor.  During the training, Greene instructed participants on the application of the McKenzie Method, including the medical assessment of live patients currently experiencing lower back pain.
Having live patients participate in clinical training is one of the more unique aspects of the course, Kuwik said.  “The patient must follow up within 24 hours so a reassessment can be (conducted) to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.”
“Most courses will just do a didactic portion and a lab portion,” he added.  “But, very few will actually bring in live patients because it adds a little variability to it. It simulates the real world.”
For the Army’s senior leaders, to include Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, the medical readiness of the force is a top priority.  Using the McKenzie Method, physical therapists will be able to more rapidly identify effective treatments while shortening the rehabilitation time for patients who respond quickly to therapy.
“This treatment approach allows the physical therapist to rapidly and accurately identify which treatment is going to be the most beneficial for the patient,” Kuwik said.  “It’s something that’s gaining traction within the physical therapy community and the Army because of the documented outcomes with regards to the reliability of the assessment and the benefit of a reliable rapid diagnosis.”
Joining the physical therapy staff was select professionals from Guthrie clinic’s occupational therapy, chiropractic, pain management, and representatives from the Veterans Administration and the Fort Drum Soldier Recovery Unit. Having wide-spread representation ensures the entire team is familiarized with the method, providing a clinical approach every Soldier can benefit from, no matter their provider.
“It’s phenomenal because I’ve had the training prior and I think it’s essential for a whole team to have the same type of training and background so we can all work effectively to produce better, quicker effects on patient care,” said Rhonda Dusharm, a physical therapist assistant at the Guthrie clinic. 
While maximizing the Army’s combat readiness is vital to senior leaders, effective pain management and therapy using the McKenzie Method will also go a long way in lowering the prevalence of pain reoccurrence over the patient’s lifetime.
“It’s about being able to treat the patient quickly and effectively,” Dusharm said. “By learning this, you can quickly identify how to treat that (condition).  Quickly identifying those things can increase the patient’s healing, whereas if you don’t have a good base, then it can take longer for a patient to recover and go back to function.”
The Fort Drum Medical Activity provides high-quality healthcare to the Fort Drum community to maximize the medical readiness of the force and improve, restore and sustain the health of more than 33,000 beneficiaries.  For more information about the Fort Drum MEDDAC, visit
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