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Helping patients return to military duty

Rehabilitation and aftercare play a critical role in helping injured servicemen and women return to duty as soon as possible. 

Muscle, bone and joint injuries are the most common causes of physical injury in the armed forces.

Servicemen and women with these conditions get a fast diagnosis, with most only requiring physiotherapy or rehabilitation treatment.

In the rare cases where surgery is necessary, the NHS provides surgery through NHS hospitals.

Getting treatment

Rehabilitation in the armed forces is delivered in 3 types of treatment centres:

  • Primary Casualty Receiving Facilities (PCRFs)
  • Regional Rehabilitation Units (RRUs)
  • The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court  

Once seen by the medical officer, patients may be referred to see a physiotherapist at one of the 70 PCRFs, which are typically based at medical centres. These treat approximately 80% of injuries.

A physiotherapist will complete a detailed assessment within 10 working days of the first consultation and provide treatment and rehabilitation as required.

Many PCRFs have an exercise rehabilitation instructor (ERI) who can provide injury-specific exercise therapy and advice on gradual return to function. 

Regional units

If the condition cannot be managed at PCRF level, the patient is referred to one of 15 RRUs in the UK and Germany.

The RRUs provide specialist assessment and opinion through a multidisciplinary injury assessment clinic (MIAC) staffed by specialist doctors, physiotherapists and ERIs. 

The clinics have access to a wide range of medical imaging to make an accurate diagnosis and work out a treatment plan, while also providing additional treatment options, such as pain management.

Where necessary, the RRU can refer patients for surgery at their local fast-track provider. Surgery is carried out within 6 weeks of referral.

The RRU also provides intermediate rehabilitation for those patients who may respond to an intensive period of rehabilitation specifically tailored to their individual needs.

These 3-week programmes consist of exercise rehabilitation, physiotherapy and injury management education. 

Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre

Complex rehabilitation and physiotherapy is provided by the DMRC at Headley Court in Epsom, Surrey.

The centre, which has 360 staff, with an equal mix of civilian and military, deals with serious musculoskeletal injuries, neurological injuries and complex trauma, including amputees. 

Headley Court is the home of the Complex Rehabilitation and Amputee Unit, and has a contract with a private company for the production of prosthetics.

Artificial limbs are manufactured onsite and individually tailored to the patients' needs.

There are 96 inpatient beds for the most serious cases, including limb loss, brain and spine injury, or a combination of both. These patients can spend up to 9 months receiving treatment at Headley Court.

There are a further 120 residential places for patients on 3-week rehabilitation courses for muscle, bone and joint injuries, which can be either work- or sports-related.

There are 4 gyms, with full cardiovascular and resistance equipment, a swimming pool and a hydrotherapy pool.

The Warren Club, a families club for armed forces members of all ranks, is the main focus for community activities.

Headley Court aims to return patients to independence and, where possible, active military duty.

Page last reviewed: 13/06/2018

Next review due: 13/06/2021