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Aviano clinic does its bit to boost Air Force readiness by reducing time off for injury

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

By NORMAN LLAMAS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 4, 2021

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  

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