Physical Therapy for Athletes Is More Than Healing Injuries

Here are 5 oth­er ways in which you can ben­e­fit from phys­i­cal ther­a­py after an injury.

The snap of a bro­ken bone, the pop in your knee, the instant swelling in your ankle … all the mak­ings of an athlete’s nightmare. 

If you’re an ath­lete who has had an injury, you may already know the drill: Rest, more rest, and, if the injury is seri­ous or debil­i­tat­ing enough, phys­i­cal therapy. 

Phys­i­cal ther­a­pists are known for treat­ing sports injuries to help ath­letes recov­er and get back into the game — but they actu­al­ly do so much more.

Here are 5 addi­tion­al ways in which phys­i­cal ther­a­py can ben­e­fit athletes.

1. Pre­vent Future Injuries

Phys­i­cal ther­a­py goes beyond recov­ery and pain relief. It can also pre­vent more injuries from hap­pen­ing in the future. 

This involves a very per­son­al­ized approach. Your ther­a­pist will iden­ti­fy poten­tial prob­lem areas, like dif­fi­cul­ty with bal­ance or weak­ness in cer­tain mus­cles, that could make you more vul­ner­a­ble to injuries. Then, they will work on cor­rect­ing prob­lems and build­ing your strength to reduce your risk of new or recur­ring injuries. 

2. Improve Ath­let­ic Performance

There’s a dif­fer­ence between func­tion” and per­for­mance.” Func­tion is the gen­er­al abil­i­ty to per­form an activ­i­ty, like run­ning or throw­ing. Per­for­mance, on the oth­er hand, is how well you per­form a function.

Many peo­ple view phys­i­cal ther­a­py as a way to restore func­tion after an injury so that they can get back to where they were before the injury. How­ev­er, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists also focus on per­for­mance. They can help you not just get back to your base­line but sur­pass it. 

Your phys­i­cal ther­a­pist may have you do sports-spe­cif­ic exer­cis­es, like agili­ty drills if you’re a foot­ball play­er or ankle-strength­en­ing exer­cis­es if you are a bal­let dancer.

Look­ing to start phys­i­cal ther­a­py? Sched­ule an appoint­ment with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at The South Bend Clin­ic.

3. Work Mul­ti­ple Sys­tems in Your Body

Ath­let­ic injuries often occur in bones, joints, and mus­cles. These are all part of your mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem — the sys­tem that gives your body its struc­ture and pos­ture and allows it to move. 

How­ev­er, phys­i­cal ther­a­py isn’t lim­it­ed to the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem. It can work any sys­tem in your body that’s respon­si­ble for move­ment. In addi­tion to the mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem, phys­i­cal ther­a­py may tar­get your:

  • Ner­vous sys­tem (brain, spinal cord, and nerves)

  • Car­diopul­monary sys­tem (heart and blood vessels)

  • Integu­men­tary sys­tem (the out­er lay­er of your body, includ­ing your skin, nails, hair, and your skin’s glands and nerves)

This is one rea­son why phys­i­cal ther­a­pists may be part of your care team after an injury, even if your mus­cu­loskele­tal sys­tem is intact. For exam­ple, an injury to your ner­vous sys­tem (like a con­cus­sion) can cause prob­lems like dif­fi­cul­ty with bal­ance — and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists are experts at help­ing peo­ple improve their bal­ance and abil­i­ty to move. 

4. Involve Dif­fer­ent Types of Therapy

Phys­i­cal ther­a­py can be bro­ken down into active” and pas­sive” treatments.

Active” treat­ments require you to active­ly par­tic­i­pate. They include exer­cis­es and move­ments that work to improve your coor­di­na­tion, strength, and abil­i­ty to move. These treat­ments gen­er­al­ly make up the bulk of phys­i­cal ther­a­py sessions. 

In addi­tion, your phys­i­cal ther­a­pist may have you try pas­sive” treat­ments. These are per­formed on you, with­out you hav­ing to do any­thing. Some of the more com­mon pas­sive treat­ments include:

  • Mas­sage

  • Guid­ed move­ments, where your ther­a­py moves parts of your body for you 

  • Heat or cold therapy

  • Elec­tri­cal stimulation

  • Ultra­sound

While pas­sive treat­ments are great for reliev­ing pain and kick­start­ing your heal­ing process, they are gen­er­al­ly short-term treat­ments. So even if mas­sages or ice feel like they’re doing the trick, it’s impor­tant to still do active treat­ments. Those are the ones that are going to help you recov­er ful­ly in the long run. 

5. Pre­pare You to Return to Play

Before you jump back into the swing of things, your phys­i­cal ther­a­pist will help you ensure that you’re ready to do so safe­ly. They can work with you on a return-to-play plan that includes pre­cau­tions and point­ers, such as:

  • Slow­ly eas­ing back into the sport — know­ing that you might not be per­form­ing up to your usu­al lev­el when you get started

  • Lim­i­ta­tions you should fol­low, like wear­ing pro­tec­tive padding or bracing

  • A plan for what to do if you’re in pain (e.g., slow down)

  • Con­tin­u­ing endurance train­ing and conditioning

  • How to men­tal­ly pre­pare your­self to jump back into play

Return­ing to your sport doesn’t mean that you have to stop phys­i­cal ther­a­py. Ther­a­py can be ongo­ing, and the spe­cif­ic exer­cis­es you do may change as your injury con­tin­ues to heal and you con­tin­ue to regain function. 

As you work with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist and recov­er from an injury, the most impor­tant thing you can do is lis­ten to your body. Take breaks, don’t push through pain, and give your body the time it needs to heal. It might mean sit­ting out of the game for a lit­tle while, but your body will thank you in the long run.

Health Topics:

  • I enjoy helping patients restore their optimum functional levels after an injury or disability.