Aviano Air Base opens doors to COBRA clinic

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The 31st Medical Group held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Comprehensive Operational Medicine for Battle Ready Airmen (COBRA) clinic at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The COBRA clinic is a pilot program unique to Aviano and a new approach to Air Force physical care. COBRA offers a variety of treatments for Airmen who can now walk in and start care the same day.

“Two years ago we started with a problem to solve,” said U.S Air Force Maj. John Lax, 31st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, primary care sports medicine. “Our problem was we had Airmen on this base who were struggling day in and day out from musculoskeletal injuries with a lack of knowledge on how to perform, how to exercise, and how to make themselves resistant to injury.”

Musculoskeletal conditions are the number one reason for medical appointments, missed worked days, and profiles across the Department of Defense. These musculoskeletal problems continue to be a leading reason for medical retirement resulting in the loss of valuable Airmen. “Fundamentally, we set out to fix a problem and be able to provide the kind of care, that we as medics, want to provide to every one of our Airmen,” said Lax.

This clinic will establish a hub-spoke model of care incorporating diagnosis, recovery, rehabilitation, and performance optimization into a single unified mission. The hub will house unique rehab equipment, such as gait retraining software, anti-gravity treadmills for rehab, recovery modalities, and a float pod for sensory deprivation. With roots in sports medicine, the facility resembles a high-level athletic training room, with an end goal of performance optimization, not just recovery. It reflects an initiative called Preservation of the Force and Family, which was first introduced by former U.S. Special Operations Command commander retired U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McRaven.

COBRA also borrows heavily from the 57th Rescue Squadron who has championed the same approach for its pararescuemen at its Human Performance Optimization clinic. Performance-based treatments span the scope of care, including rapid decision making training, blood-flow restriction for de-loading, strengthening after significant injuries, and markers of physiologic performance. All these concepts, fine-tuned over several years, make the COBRA clinic a powerful new tool for Airmen when it comes to physical care and recovery.

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