- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — One soldier ran on a treadmill while wearing a mask to measure his breathing. Another tracked his endurance on a stationary bike. Computers displayed their progress on charts.

Fort Campbell this week opened its Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement Laboratory, a first-of-its-kind military lab designed to help determine how soldiers get hurt and develop programs to prevent injuries.

Soldiers get sprained ankles, torn ligaments and stress fractures just like competitive athletes, so the Army designed the lab to apply the science of sports medicine to the battlefield.

“We do these same tests on the Pittsburgh Steelers,” explained Scott Lephart, the project’s principal researcher from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “We know that an offensive lineman and a defensive back need different training, and that’s the same approach we are taking with these soldiers.”

The Department of Defense found that musculoskeletal injuries — sprains, tears, fractures — accounted for more than half of all unintentional injuries to soldiers, Mr. Lephart said.

“These were very similar to the injuries we had been studying for the last 20 years in the sports medicine arena,” Mr. Lephart said.

Through a $2.75 million grant, 900 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell will be tested in the lab, as well as during training on base and after they return from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much of the information learned about the soldiers’ endurance, speed, balance and other physical abilities will be new, Mr. Lephart said.

“We don’t know what the ideal body fat is for a soldier yet,” he said. “We know what is the ideal for a point guard or a marathoner. They all need different body compositions to optimally perform.”

The tests are designed to re-create the most injury-prone activities for soldiers, usually repetitive motions that can cause strain on knees, backs and shoulders. Soldiers in the 101st learn to rappel and jump from helicopters, and the landings can be dangerous.

“We know that the landing techniques will increase the likelihood of injury if they are done inappropriately,” Mr. Lephart said.

In a trial designed to test landing techniques, a soldier had small reflective balls tagged to his legs. As he jumped off a small platform, high-speed cameras captured his landing and computer animation showed the force on his muscles and knees.

Another soldier who demonstrated an upper-body strength test, Sgt. Eurace Burnett, 32, twisted his knee several times while jumping out of helicopters.

“Once in a while it would swell up, but now I can’t jump anymore because of the knee injury,” he said.

Researchers hope to develop training programs that soldiers can begin before their next overseas deployment, which could happen as soon as this fall.

“I expect to have very rapid benefit from it,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, the commander of the division.

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