Introduction to the Role Physical Therapists Play in Sports Injuries

Physical therapy in a rough form has been around for thousands of years. We are fortunate to have highly skilled and educated therapists who perform specific treatment plans on injured athletes. This highly successful alternative or holistic practice geared towards sports injuries has continued to cycle and add newer approaches to help the injured athlete.

Thousands of years ago, practitioners used successful approaches to help their athletes. However, through the centuries, these approaches have become more modernized, bringing even more success to treatment plans as we advance into the 21st Century. The Physical Therapists who prefer to practice within sports medicine continue to be in great demand and may also work in private practice. 

The Expertise of Physical Therapists

There is a great need for physical therapy intervention when there is a sports injury. Sports teams across the globe recognize the vital importance of this specific therapist. Many sports teams now include licensed and experienced Physical Therapists to travel with them when they are on the road.

Physical Therapists work with the team members, teaching them how to avoid particular injuries during and after games. Therapists help to decrease the damage done to team members during and after games.

There are many facets of physical therapy services specific to personal injuries during sporting competitions. Traditional health care professionals, such as MDs in private practices, now recognize the importance of this alternative treatment whose focus is to promote, maintain, and restore the health of each team member after sustaining a sports injury. The primary care physician may refer the athlete to a physical therapy provider. The goal for the team member is to return to the quality of life they experienced before the damage occurred.

When a sports injury occurs, it is best to start treatment on the spot. Immediate treatment cannot be done if the Physical Therapist does not travel with the team. The athlete must continue recommendations by their therapist until the injury completely heals.

This intervention cannot happen unless Physical Therapists put an individual treatment plan into action geared around the team member and their specific sports injury. Every sports injury demands specific approaches within a personal treatment plan of the injured team member.

Treatment Plan Approaches Vary According to the Injury

Some treatment plan options that the physical therapy provider may use on an injured team member may be,

  • Massage Therapy
  • Manual Therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

Research over the years finds that perhaps the athlete may have had chronic conditions and underlying health issues that weakened the injury site. These modern-day therapists have more to focus on, such as the athlete’s pain and injury during a game and possible underlying physical problems. These therapists’ responsibility lies with helping the athlete regain,

  • Mobility
  • Address underlying health issues
  • Eliminate pain
  • Increase full independence
  • Place the athlete at their highest level of functioning
  • Increase the quality of life.
  • Functional training
  • Taping
  • Joint mobilization
  • Stretching exercises
  • Self-management of health issues
  • Goal setting
  • Possible healthy lifestyle changes
  • Consultations with specific professionals

An Individualized Treatment Plan

Treatment plans for each athlete are never the same. However, the primary goals of all therapists are to identify health issues and work up a therapy plan of care, adding suitable approaches and changing these approaches when the athlete shows little to no progress. A care plan should work towards healing, eliminating, or significantly reducing pain issues, increasing flexibility, and improving function through continued patient education through the physical therapy service.

The Many Faces of Physical Therapy

There are many areas of expertise in Physical Therapy. Some do not apply to sports injuries, such as, but are not limited to, pediatrics. The ones that do apply to sports injuries are as follows.

  • Neurological Physical Therapy

This area of expertise has to do with the nervous system, such as might be found in an athlete who has sustained a head injury or has symptoms of sciatica. In neurological cases, this physical therapist can help the athlete rebuild neural pathways, rehabilitation after brain surgery, improve balance and motor control.

  • Cardio-Respiratory

This therapist can formulate a plan of care to help athletes who suffer from diseases related to the heart, lungs, and pulmonary disorders. A care plan may be associated with resistance training and exercises to enhance breathing and decrease a chronic cough or shortness of breath.

  • Musculoskeletal 

This therapy helps athletes increase the function of their musculoskeletal system. The bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints of athletes can be injured during games. Injuries mean increased pain and discomfort, decreased mobility, and decreased flexibility. Physical Therapists can reduce the damage done to these body systems.

The Physical Therapist, having expertise in the sports industry, focuses on the athletes as a whole. This therapist is educated explicitly on the issues that an athlete often encounters while playing sports. The therapist’s role is to encourage a healing process, manage injuries, and prevent injuries from happening again.

  • Balance Training

The human body can take much abuse in the sports arena. Skeletal systems become easily misaligned, causing increasingly poor balance. The therapist can help rehabilitate the athlete and restore the individual’s balance through realigning the body’s skeletal system.

  • Chronic Pain Issues

The Physical Therapist can help eliminate pain after an injury. If the athlete needed surgery, this professional could address post-op pain. Any athlete scheduled for surgery turns to their Physical Therapist to help strengthen the body before the surgery occurs. This approach helps to reduce further injuries and helps towards a steady and quick recovery. The athlete can regain total mobility with the assistance of their team Physical Therapist.

It is not unusual for athletes to suffer from sports injuries such as but not limited to, sprains, strains, headaches, back pain, neck discomfort, dizziness, tendonitis, pulled muscles, and more. The Physical Therapist’s skill allows the athlete to get back into the game by recommending to the athlete a treatment plan and preventive recommendation to keep them from having repeated injuries.

Common Conditions that Require Physical Therapy Treatment 

  • Sports injuries
  • Post-operative rehabilitation
  • Join and muscle sprains
  • Headaches
  • Lower back and neck pain
  • Vertigo
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Torn tendons

A Call to Action to Speak with Your Team’s Physical Therapist

Understand that a Physical Therapist studies the science behind human movement. This therapist can pinpoint the cause of chronic pain. An athlete’s pain issues can stem from an illness, a disease process, and injury, or the athlete’s age could be a factor.

If the therapist does not use an integrative health care approach, the patient’s quality of life may never recover. The therapist must look at the following things to help to capture once was quality of life for the athlete by addressing chronic health issues.

The Physical Therapist is trained and skilled at assessing the physical condition. They can diagnose and are experts at setting a treatment plan in place.

Most everyone has a primary care physician. It may be this doctor who recommends physical therapy intervention. For instance, an athlete may complain of chronic back pain. This pain can stem from their rigorous schedule of games, exercise, and training.

Once the therapist initiates a care plan of treatment, the goal is to reduce the pain and increase the patient’s mobility, movement, and flexibility. The therapist gives the athlete recommendations to help prevent them from sustaining repeated injuries through patient education. 

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