Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine: What to Know

recover from sports injuries at OSR physical therapy

Athletes know that there is nothing worse than having to sit out a game or season because of pain or an injury. This is also the fear of many parents and coaches as well. Having to see their child or athlete not be able to do what he or she loves to do is heartbreaking. For many parents, they’d rather skip sports altogether than see their child injured. However, despite this well-founded and well-intentioned fear, there are ways to not only prevent sports injuries but also help athletes recover as quickly as possible. The answer lies in physical therapy’s role in sports medicine.

What Is Sports Physical Therapy?

Also called sports therapy, sports physical therapy is a special focus on athletes by physical therapists. General physical therapists will be able to help rehabilitate an injury. However, a sports-focused physical therapist is trained to deal with the injuries and physiological aspects of sports and exercise. They have a deeper understanding of exercise science as well as biomechanics, two subjects that are important in the prevention and full rehabilitation of sports-related injuries.

Because sports physical therapists focus specifically on athletes, they can create a unique treatment and prevention plan that takes into account the athlete’s specific sport. Just like each person’s body is individually unique and responds to a treatment plan in a unique way, so too does each athlete depending on the sport. Based upon a full evaluation, a physical therapist will create a plan that takes into account sport and movement, physiology, strengths and weaknesses, and injury risk. They will then tailor a plan with sports-specific and position-specific exercises to improve the athlete’s movement.

Evaluation And Assessment

Before a physical therapist can create a plan of action for the athlete, the therapist will first do an evaluation. This evaluation includes pain assessment if there is current pain. During a pain and injury assessment, the physical therapist will find the underlying cause of where the pain is stemming from and give a diagnosis to treat it properly.

Then, after the pain subsides, they may include functional and mobility testing to determine weaknesses and where there can be improvements. This testing will most likely include video and playback to assess the areas of the body most prone to stress during the specific movements of the sport. For example, if the sport requires a lot of jumping and stress to the knee, the physical therapist will look closely at that area for signs of weakness. These weaknesses could lead to injury, which is why assessing the biomechanics of each athlete is important for prevention.

Sports Injury Prevention

Unfortunately, most athletes come to see a physical therapist when they have already been injured or are in pain. However, one of the greatest benefits to physical therapists in sports medicine comes with sports injury prevention. Physical therapists have a deeper understanding of exercise science, physiology, and biomechanics. Therefore, they are highly qualified to spot muscle instability and weaknesses that can lead to an injury. Furthermore, they can devise a prevention program that includes proper warm-ups and cool-downs, as well as special exercises. They not only educate athletes on proper posture and movement through tests such as gait analysis for runners, injury risk assessments, or functional tests. If physical therapists are part of a sports team, they often take the time to educate the coach and staff. They are also open to answering any of the questions from interested parents.

Having a physical therapist as part of the sports team can also benefit the athlete in catching an injury early. They can easily spot if an athlete has changed posture or seems to be favoring part of the body. Both of these signs could indicate an oncoming injury. Spotting this early can mean the difference between missing out on a practice or game or the entire season. With a trained physical therapist, an athlete can have the opportunity to maintain muscle strength. They will also be able to improve or correct any biomechanical or functional weaknesses.

Athletic Trainers And Physical Therapists

Many times, physical therapists will work closely with athletic trainers in the prevention and treatment of athletes. Athletic trainers also specialize in the prevention, recognition, and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries. They are often closely involved in the treatment plan for patients and can even work with sports organizations. When athletic trainers and physical therapists work together, they complete the sports circle of life: injury prevention, training, performance, injury rehabilitation, and back to prevention. Both athletic trainers and physical therapists work together from start to finish in prevention, training, and rehabilitation as one without the others can lead to re-injury and improper recovery. 

Keeping Open Communication

There are many benefits for athletes when it comes to sports-focused physical therapists. However, without keeping open communication, it’s difficult to create a full prevention and treatment plan that works. Building a strong relationship with a physical therapist is important so that they know what is working and what is not. Furthermore, communication between coaches and PTs as well as parents and PTs can greatly benefit athletes. Both coaches and parents can become other resources and watchful eyes for injuries. Being able to report back on pain lets the physical therapist know that the plan is working or needs altering. This ensures that each athlete’s plan is succeeding in prevention and/or recovery.