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Royal Navy looks to sports science and tech to cut injury list

Royal Navy looks to sports science and tech to cut injury list
The Royal Navy is embracing cutting-edge sports science and technology to dramatically reduce injuries which impact the front line – and cut short careers.

Working side-by-side with leading academics from Exeter, Bath and Southampton Universities, from this autumn it is looking to reduce musculoskeletal injuries across the Navy and Royal Marines.

Half of personnel who are medically downgraded suffer from a musculoskeletal injury – anything which is muscular/bone related, such as a twisted knee or hip injury. They are caused by overuse, playing sport, physical training or simply poor working practices.

The result is sailors and Royal Marines are unable to perform regular duties – putting demands on the rest of the Navy to fill their shoes – and potentially lengthy, costly and demanding rehabilitation.

The Royal Navy Musculoskeletal Mitigation Programme will attempt to prevent these injuries and, where it cannot, improve recovery and rehabilitation – delivering more people, more ready, more of the time.

From the autumn, specialist exercise laboratories – featuring state-of-the-art movement screening equipment, including force plates, pressure plates and motion capture camera systems – will support the biomechanical screening of personnel.

They will be installed at the Royal Navy’s training establishments; HMS Raleigh in Torpoint; Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Lympstone.

An additional laboratory will be based in the Portsmouth area to capture personnel at later stages of their general training, with satellite facilities across UK Royal Navy and Royal Marines’ units.

As well as assessing movement, fitness and health behaviours of personnel as they join the Service, data collection will be repeated at the end of training, after one year of service, and – if they should suffer injury – as close to the point of injury as possible.

Data gathering is also planned at milestones through a person’s career to understand and inform the development of pan-organisation, logistically-feasible, context-relevant, person-centred health and performance interventions.

The Royal Navy has a pioneering rehabilitation unit at HMS Drake in Plymouth, assisting personnel from all three Services back to fitness – but it only intervenes once someone is injured.

The Musculoskeletal Mitigation Programme will ensure timely data gathering, analysis and reporting, to translate research – across a broad spectrum of fields and subjects including exercise physiology, biomechanics, health behaviours, social psychology, epidemiology and health economics.

“Musculoskeletal injuries account for about half of personnel across the Navy who are medically downgraded and unable to perform their regular duties,” said Lieutenant Colonel Erik Nielsen RM from the Institute of Naval Medicine – the Royal Navy’s specialists in health and fitness – who heads the programme with Dr Jo Fallowfield.

“They stop sailors going to sea, they stop Royal Marines deploying, and they require long and very expensive rehab – which doesn’t always guarantee success.
“Through this work, collaborating with some of the UK’s leading universities, we want to develop a whole systems approach to reduce the prevalence of these injuries and improve the health outcomes and lived experiences of our people as well as creating and enduring cultural change.”

James Bilzon, Professor of Applied Human Physiology at the University of Bath, added: “Musculoskeletal injury among Service personnel is a clear challenge for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and, of course, for the individuals directly affected.

“Based on our previous research, we know there are evidence-based ways to design and evaluate new interventions that can mitigate these risks and improve individuals’ long-term musculoskeletal health outcomes.

“We’re delighted to be using our insights and experience, including working with other uniformed services to explore this in a military context.” 

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