While sports are positive, rewarding activities for both professionals and recreational athletes alike, each sport carries its own unique risk of injury. As an athlete, it can be difficult to know where to go for help when faced with an injury. There are many questions an individual is faced with when injured, such as:
How long will they have to stop participating, if any, from their sport?
How long will the recovery take?
What activities are okay to do when injured? What should be avoided/changed?
Who is the best practitioner to address these problems?
All of these factors can compound to create a frustrating situation for the injured athlete. Physical therapy can help an athlete address the injury, and help the athletes return to the sport with more strength and a decreased risk of re-injury. This is accomplished through evidenced-based examination and evaluation, and sport-specific exercise prescription and progression. The therapist must understand the demands of the sport, and understand proper form/technique for athletic completion that will pose the least amount of stress to the athlete’s body while maximizing performance.
Beginning Treatment of a Sports Injury
Physical Therapy care begins with the initial evaluation. During the subjective examination, we discuss how the athlete was injured in addition to a complete history that may give us clues as to not only what happened, but why it happened. At Life’s Work Physical Therapy, we utilize efficient and evidenced-based scans developed by the North American Institute of Orthopedic Manual Therapy (NAIOMT). During the scanning examination, we look for deficiencies in functional performance, the range of motion, strength, joint mobility. We observe how a person moves which gives us clues about what is weak or strong, or possibly stiff and if there are compensation patterns the person is using with their movement. We utilize special tests, which help us to identify and diagnose specific the type of soft tissue or joint injury. After arriving at a diagnosis our evaluation process doesn’t stop. We continue to revisit an individual’s case as they progress to ensure we are on the right track with their recovery.
After the evaluation, we begin treatment by building a stable foundation for us to build on with rehabilitation. This often begins with controlling swelling and pain, followed by addressing functional postures, improving range of motion, and when appropriate, initiating strengthening and functional retraining. These are the building blocks that more advanced rehabilitation will be based upon, (i.e. walk before you run, etc). While exercise during this phase may not seem as complex as some of the activities to follow it is in no way less important or less specific to the overall goal. The physical therapist is constantly looking at what needs to be accomplished in order to progress to the next stage in rehabilitation, and physical therapy is individualized to the individual and their activities from day one.
As the athlete improves, rehab progresses to sport-specific activities. For example, a golfer with an injured shoulder has different needs than a baseball pitcher. Sports like running, basketball and figure skating require various levels of plyometric strength, and gymnasts and dancers need to be able to stabilize in many different positions, many of which are outside the normal range of motion of the average person. When an individual prematurely returns to the sport without addressing functional deficits in strength, range of motion, or neuromuscular control, they are more likely to re-injure themselves. Just because something doesn’t hurt anymore doesn’t mean it is as strong as it was before.
There are numerous factors physical therapists look at when prescribing exercise and progressing exercise for athletes. These can include activity, age, skill level, mechanism of injury, the presence or lack of swelling, pain, the stage of tissue healing and the requirements of the specific activity. Each of these factors must be considered, this is why it takes an expert practitioner. Just as an athlete works to improve their skills, physical therapists at Life’s Work Physical Therapy are constantly working to refine their evaluation and manual therapy skills. An injury can be a frustrating thing to go through but expert physical therapy care can help an athlete get back to their sport successfully.