For as long as there has been an army — and
maybe longer — there have been wounded warriors.
But today, thanks to two new pilot programs, those brave
men and women are finding a new way back to health through
aquatic therapy and exercise. If successful, aquatics could
become a major part of the U.S. Army’s
rehabilitation operations and perhaps even spur greater
participation among the civilian population.
Mary Wykle, Ph.D., is the driving force behind the
programs, along with Col. Barbara Springer, LTC Nikki
Butler and Janet Papazis. Dr. Wykle is an expert in the
field and has worked with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed
Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Wykle said the program has two parts: aquatic
rehabilitation for soldiers still undergoing physical or
occupational therapy and an Aquatic Warrior Exercise
program. The latter is designed to help those with
continued limitations rebuild strength and
fitness/readiness so they can resume regular unit training.
Both curriculums were designed to deal primarily with
musculoskeletal injuries, though the neurological and
psychological impact of traumatic brain injuries and PTSD
also were accounted for.”
“We’re trying to mimic their
land-based physical training,” Wykle said.
Currently several measures — including surveys,
pain indexing, and physical fitness and
ability testing — are being used to track
progress and gauge effectiveness. If the pilot is
successful, the Army is expected to adopt the program on a
“The goal is to develop a standard program [to
create continuity between all locations],” said
LTC Butler, Allied health staff officer for health policy
and services at the Office of the Army Surgeon General.
“If this works, the plan would be to roll it out
sequentially ... over a couple of years.”
Butler said she’s received great feedback so
far from staff and participants. For wounded soldiers, she
said aquatic rehab is helpful because it allows for
exercise without weight-bearing stress on injuries. It also
helps increase core strength, which is particularly
important in getting wounded warriors back to regular
Research shows the process of immersion also reduces
pain, which may mean the soldiers could need less pain
medication, added Dr. Bruce Becker, a longtime proponent of
aquatic therapy and director of the National Aquatic
& Sports Medicine Institute at Washington State
Looking beyond the military, he and Wykle believe that
if the program is successful, it could spur interest in
aquatic rehabilitation for civilians as well.
“What we’re trying to do is promote
the important healing properties of aquatic therapy and
exercise,” Wykle said.