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Maj. John Lax, a primary care and sports medicine physician with the 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base, Italy, watches as Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic.
Maj. John Lax, a primary care and sports medicine physician with the 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base, Italy, watches as Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Maj. John Lax, a primary care and sports medicine physician with the 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base, Italy, watches as Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic.
Maj. John Lax, a primary care and sports medicine physician with the 31st Medical Group at Aviano Air Base, Italy, watches as Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey, an aviation resource manager with the 57th Rescue Squadron, gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey, an aviation resource manager with the 57th Rescue Squadron, gets ready to use a treadmill that enables pain-free movement by reducing gravitational load and body weight, at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey, an aviation resource manager with the 57th Rescue Squadron, has cold therapy treatment at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen or (COBRA) clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Ramsey is receiving treatment at the clinic for a chronic knee injury.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey, an aviation resource manager with the 57th Rescue Squadron, has cold therapy treatment at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen or (COBRA) clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Ramsey is receiving treatment at the clinic for a chronic knee injury. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
Hot and cold water therapy tubs at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy are available for use by airmen to help them recover after strenuous activity like a long run.
Hot and cold water therapy tubs at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy are available for use by airmen to help them recover after strenuous activity like a long run. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)
A sensory deprivation floatation pod at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy helps airmen look after their mental health needs. Other equipment at the clinic, which is unique to Aviano, seeks to allow them to recover quickly from physical injuries or maintain full fitness.
A sensory deprivation floatation pod at the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, clinic at Aviano Air Base in Italy helps airmen look after their mental health needs. Other equipment at the clinic, which is unique to Aviano, seeks to allow them to recover quickly from physical injuries or maintain full fitness. (Norman Llamas/Stars and Stripes)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A clinic that opened three weeks ago at Aviano aims to reduce the number of airmen who are forced to take medical retirement or miss work by helping them to prevent and recover from knee, shoulder and other musculoskeletal injuries.

Called the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen, or COBRA, the clinic opened on Jan. 14 and is modeled on facilities for athletes, with trainers, physical therapists and sports medicine doctors providing timely and innovative care under one roof.

“Airmen can be diagnosed and begin treatment within 72 hours,” said Maj. John Lax, a primary care and sports medicine physician with the 31st Medical Group who works at COBRA.

“Compare that to the traditional medicine model, which uses that same 72-hour window to see and diagnose the patient, but not commence any treatment,” he said.

COBRA is unique to Aviano. It’s also “the first time a program like this has been done to this scale across the Air Force,” said Capt. Alicia J. Gebele, a human performance flight commander.

Through its holistic way of treating and preventing injuries, COBRA is doing its part to help the Air Force meet its goal of 95% readiness by minimizing the time airmen spend away from their duties, Lax said.

In the case of Staff Sgt. Katelyn Ramsey, it has allowed her to manage the pain caused by a knee injury that should have put her out of the Air Force, she said.

“I wore away the cartilage under my kneecap and have been dealing with a lot of pain,” she said.

COBRA staff “did a really deep dive” into the injury and started Ramsey on a treatment plan that has helped her manage the pain enough to stay in the Air Force, she said.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dallas Wolf, who has been coming to COBRA every week since it opened for treatment of injuries to one shoulder and both knees, also felt the treatment he is receiving is “helping me recover,” he said.

COBRA is built on the hub-and-spokes principle, with the hub offering specialist equipment such as gait-retraining software, specialized treadmills that enable pain-free movement by using air pressure to reduce gravitational load and body weight, and a sensory deprivation float pod, among other things. The five spokes, which are at different locations around Aviano, provide treatment for injuries as soon as possible after they occur.

Appointments are not necessary to go to a COBRA facility.

The clinic is not just for injured airmen, though. Equipment is available to help airmen look after their mental health needs, hot- and cold-water therapy tubs help them recover after strenuous activity such as a long run, and the clinic has devices they can use for deep-tissue massages to enhance muscle recovery.

norman.llamas@stripes.com Twitter: @normanllamas

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