There are many different treatment options for sports injuries and treatment will vary based on the location, extent, and severity of tissue damage. Treatment can include both activities performed by the therapists such as joint mobilization and soft tissue massage, as well as active stretching and strengthening exercise. A treatment like massage therapy or joint mobilization and will generally need to be followed up with a more active exercise, stretch, or posture modification to promote improved mobility and function.
Here are the more common treatments used in physical therapy:
A clinical approach utilizing skilled, specific hands-on techniques, including but not limited to manipulation/mobilization. It is used by the physical therapist to diagnose and treat soft tissues and joint structures for the purpose of decreasing pain, increasing the range of motion (ROM), reducing or eliminating soft tissue inflammation, inducing relaxation, improving tissue repair, extensibility, and/or stability, facilitating movement, and improving function.
An ExRx is the careful and correct prescription of exercise is needed to properly heal an injury. It typically involves a plan of fitness activities that are designed for a specified purpose. Since tissue should heal “under load,” meaning that the tissue should heal while it is being used, you can expect the treatment to be less active than regular exercise. Overloading the healing tissue can slow the healing process.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID)
Physical therapists cannot prescribe any medication. We can identify when an anti-inflammatory drug may be beneficial to your rehabilitation, however, and discuss with your medical doctor how to incorporate NSIADs into your treatment.
Using a combonation of rest, ice, compression and elevation, or “RICE treatment”, is used to promote the reduction of inflammation or swelling in the body without medication. A physical therapist prescribes specific protocol to flush swelling and improve function and pain. This treatment is best in the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury.
Bracing and Immobilization
Braces and immobilizers help to limit the range of motion a joint can actively; both devices can help you recover from an injury. Your physical therapist will identify if you need a brace/immobilizer and how long you need to use the device. After a period oftime your therapist will gradually decrease the time you spend in the brace and increase you strengthening exercises. Wearing a brace incorrectly or for too long can increase healing time.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Commonly referred to E-stim, this treatmnet sends electrical signals to the muscles. It can be used for a number of different purposes including pain control and muscle re-education. Ultrasound sends sound waves into the tissue. It can be used to promote healing or decrease pain. Both e-stim and ultrasound require a skilled professional to properly identify when either treatment would be beneficial to rehabilitation and correctly dose treatment parameters (i.e. duration, frequency, intensity).
Thermotherapy and Cryotherapy
Your therapist may prescribe heat or cold packs as part of your rehabilitation. Heat helps to bring blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscles along with having a relaxing effect. Cold helps to decrease swelling and relieve pain. Using heat therapy when you should be using cold therapy, or vice-versa can increase healing time. Your therapist will help you decide which is right for you, but typically:
- Use cold for acute pain or a new swollen/inflamed injury.
- Use heat for chronic pain or an injury that is a day or more old.
This may be part of your rehabilitation. Sports massage usually addresses muscles which are very tight and have difficulty relaxing. Your therapist can use specific techniques to release a muscle. A relaxed muscle can fully lengthen and fully contract to produce as much power as possible.