Often, physical therapy for athletes and sports medicine get confused. So, we took a moment to answer typical questions we hear.
What’s the difference between sports medicine and physical therapy for athletes?
A broad descriptive term, sports medicine encompasses physicians, surgeries, physical therapists, athletic trainers, maybe personal trainers, chiropractors, and massage therapists.
Specific to the physical therapy (PT) genre, PT for athletes includes
- pre-screening for injury prevention
- rehabilitating the athlete after an injury or surgery
- manual therapy techniques
- specific exercises that are post injury/surgical protocol appropriate
The goal of PT for an athlete is to end up with return to sports.
The process begins with relatively simple steps to promote healing.
The progression moves through range of motion, flexibility, muscle contractility, strength, endurance, power, speed, agility and finally to sport specific “unplanned movement patterns”.
As a result, the unplanned movement patterns help the athlete’s ability to functionally perform the sport. Overall, the patterns help the athlete react quickly to a ball or another athlete without pre-planning motor functions.
How do physical therapists work with athletes?
Physical therapists begin working with athletes by completing a comprehensive evaluation of their joint and tissue mobility, range of motion, balance, strength, etc.
As we move into treatment, the PT introduces specific strengthening and functional activities related to the athlete’s sport of choice.
Next, the therapist introduces plyometrics and dynamic activities to assess the athlete’s response to higher-level activities.
Finally, the PT will expose the athlete to “return to sport” activities. These begin with simplified simulations of their sport, then progress to planned and unplanned movements. This process ensures the athlete builds appropriate foundation to play again safely.
What are the goals of physical therapy for athletes?
- Pain, swelling reduction while promoting healing
- Stabilize joint mobility and range of motion
- Rebuild muscle strength and endurance
- Coordination, speed, and agility recovery
- Sport specific technical movement recovery
- Ability to perform multi-directional movement patterns such as cutting and back pedaling
- Restore normal bio-mechanics required by the athlete’s chosen sport
Why is sports physical therapy important?
Sports therapy today helps prevent later life issues. Everyone knows an older person who suffers from the effects of untreated sprains, twists, and what seems like minor sports injuries.
Younger athletes with torn ligaments or cartilage injuries often develop arthritic conditions as they age.
Also, in later life, numerous sports related injuries often lead to total joint replacement surgery.
Can a physical therapist diagnose injuries?
Yes, under the circumstances of direct access, the physical therapist performs a thorough evaluation and, using differential diagnostic skills, develops the diagnosis.
When referred by a physician, the patient diagnosis is listed on the prescription.
Nevertheless, the physical therapist still performs a thorough evaluation and may discover contributing factors to your pain or injury other than your doctor initially prescribed.
What type of physical therapies benefit athletes?
Physical therapists possess a wide range of modalities and therapies to help rehabilitate athletes.
We’ve seen impressive results from athletes using blood flow restriction for strength training and injury rehabilitation.
Similarly, look at the equipment used in a physical therapy setting. A top notch physical therapy operation possesses equipment designed specifically for rehabilitating specific injuries. Athletes are notorious for wanting to get back in the game and oftentimes do too much too soon. It is important to have a knowledgeable PT to advise and guide the athlete to full recovery while making sure they adhere to their specific protocol of progressions.
Common sports related injuries
- Achilles tendon injury
- Fractures, sprains and strains
- Meniscus tears
- Cartilage injuries
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Wear and tear injuries: tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, jumper’s knee, swimmer’s shoulder
- Knee instability, disorders and dislocations
- Neck and Low Back injuries
- Anterior cruciate ligament tear (ACL)
- Rotator cuff tears
- Shoulder dislocations, separations and injuries
- Adductor strain (groin)
- Hip impingement
- Hip pointers
- Acromioclavicular (AC) joint injuries