Physical Therapists Forward Deployed on Aircraft Carriers: A Retrospective Look at a Decade of Service

Michael D. Rosenthal, Gregg W. Ziemke, Matthew L. Bush, Joshua Halfpap

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Navy physical therapists (PTs) have been a part of ship's company aboard Aircraft Carriers since 2002 due to musculoskeletal injuries being the number one cause of lost duty time and disability. This article describes a decade of physical therapy services provided aboard aircraft carriers. Materials and Methods: A retrospective survey was conducted to evaluate the types of services provided, volume of workload, value of services provided, and impact of PTs on operational readiness for personnel aboard Naval aircraft carriers. Thirty-four reports documenting workload from PTs stationed onboard aircraft carriers were collected during the first decade of permanent PT assignment to aircraft carriers. Results: This report quantifies a 10-yr period of physical therapy services (PT and PT Technician) in providing musculoskeletal care within the carrier strike group and adds to existing literature demonstrating a high demand for musculoskeletal care in operational platforms. A collective total of 144,211 encounters were reported during the 10-yr period. The number of initial evaluations performed by the PT averaged 1,448 per assigned tour. The average number of follow-up appointments performed by the PT per tour was 1,440. The average number of treatment appointments per tour provided by the PT and PT technician combined was 1,888. The average number of visits per patient, including the initial evaluation, was 3.3. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the workload occurred while deployed or out to sea during training periods. It was estimated that 213 medical evacuations were averted over the 10-yr period. There were no reports of adverse events or quality of care reviews related to the care provided by the PT and/or PT technician. Access to early PT intervention aboard aircraft carriers was associated with a better utilization ratio (lower average number of visits per condition) than has been reported in prior studies and suggests an effective utilization of medical personnel resources. Conclusions: The impact of Navy PTs serving afloat highlights the importance of sustaining these billets and indicates the potential benefit of additional billet establishment to support operational platforms with high volumes of musculoskeletal injury. Access to early PT intervention can prevent and rehabilitate injuries among operational forces, promote human performance optimization, increase readiness during war and peace time efforts, and accelerate rehabilitation from neuromusculoskeletal injuries. With the establishment of Electronic Health Records within all carrier medical groups a repeat study may provide additional detail related to musculoskeletal injuries to guide medical planners to staff sea-based operational platforms most effectively to care for the greatest source of battle and disease non-battle injuries and related disability in the military.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E377-E382
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 5 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Direct Access
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Operational Medicine
  • Physical Therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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