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First sailors complete ground-breaking trial to help curb injuries ruining military careers

20 March 2024
The first recruits to take part in ground-breaking work to dramatically reduce injuries in training – and throughout their careers – have passed out from HMS Raleigh.

Civilians joining the Naval Service now undergo comprehensive scientific assessments, using the latest tech and sports science knowledge which will shape future training programmes and how the Royal Navy helps rehabilitate personnel with injuries.

Motion capture technology (kinematics) record recruits’ gait as they walk or run across a series of pressure points and pads, assessing how and where they distribute their body weight as they do so.

Coupled with measuring grip strength, height, and observing how someone stands, as well as noting health factors such as smoking and diet, the data will be used in a bid to curb the single biggest cause of sailors and marines being medically downgraded: musculoskeletal injuries.

Such injuries – anything which is muscular/bone related, such as a twisted knee or hip injury – account for half the military personnel who are medically downgraded.

Working side-by-side with leading academics from Bath, Exeter and Southampton Universities, the goal is to drastically cut those injuries (typically caused by overuse, playing sport, physical training, or poor working practices) across the Naval Service.

Scientific Support Facilities (SSF) have been installed at two of the Royal Navy’s ‘entry’ training establishments: HMS Raleigh and the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Lympstone; a third facility will be established at the Institute of Naval Medicine in Alverstoke later this year to capture Phase 2 and 3 trainees.

The first batch of recruits at HMS Raleigh had their details recorded over several hours in the new facility.

Markers – reference points – were fitted to a recruit’s body before they walked/ran down a short runway, filmed all the way, while pressure sensors under the walkway recorded the distribution and application of weight.

“It’s a bit like how they filmed Gollum in Lord of the Rings,” explained Ellie Scott, a post-graduate researcher from the University of Exeter.

We can do things better – we can look after people better, improve the effectiveness of our rehab and recovery programme and get more people off the side-lines.

Dr Fallowfield

“It creates a ‘virtual stick person’ who replicates exactly how you run or walk. We can calculate angles and forces someone puts through their body when walking or running to see if there are any factors which make them susceptible to certain injuries.”

Dr Jo Fallowfield, who heads the Royal Navy Musculoskeletal Mitigation Programme, said that, “Historically we have not focussed on this bit of ‘kit’ – the person. And this piece of ‘kit’ makes everything else function. We need to present ourselves as a 21st-Century employer, who invests in its people, supports them, treats their health as a priority and supports them throughout their career.”

With between 3,000 and 3,500 people joining the Naval Service every year, the aim is to build up comprehensive data (and with it much greater understanding) of injuries, intervene to prevent them, and tailor training, be it during the civvy to military conversion, or later in their careers.

Captain Jane Roe RN, the Captain HMS Raleigh, enthused, “This programme will ensure we don’t lose high quality individuals, employed in demanding roles, through preventative injuries. I think this is an exciting initiative – I wish this had been available when I joined the Royal Navy.”

Lieutenant Colonel Erik Nielsen RM, joint head of the programme with Dr Fallowfield commented, “We need to understand that when we’re putting our training programmes together, we need to understand how to train individuals, how to prevent injuries, and we need to understand health behaviours and rehabilitation.”

Data will also be collected as recruits end their training, after one year of service, and – if they should suffer injury – as close to the point of injury as possible.

“This programme is also about holding on to the exceptional talent we have – there are people leaving the service with health issues which could have been prevented,” Dr Fallowfield stressed.

“We can do things better – we can look after people better, improve the effectiveness of our rehab and recovery programme and get more people off the side-lines.”


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