Any parent of an injured athlete worries whether the injury will affect their child's sports future. Smart thinking suggests a doctor's visit if something does not seem right. Depending on the injury, many athletes will then see a physical therapist for a few weeks.
This is a good thing. Right?
Well, if you are an athlete or parent, the idea of physical therapy doesn't exactly invite a warm fuzzy feeling. Talk to anyone who has gone through physical therapy and they will tell you that it was like going to war, and earning painful battle stripes along the way.
As a physical therapist, I know that rehabilitation is far more than just about treating injuries. Sprained ankles, rotator cuff strain, or even a pulled back muscle are easy to treat. The real trick is preventing an injury from happening again.
Here are some things that you might not know about physical therapy.
All about education
Physical therapy is all about education. There are great hands-on techniques to treat injured body parts, modalities to decrease pain, and advice to improve the healing process. None of this really matters unless the injured athlete and parent understands the process. Physical therapy offers a one-on-one opportunity for parents and athletes to ask anything they want to know. PT is truly only a success if all parties involved are aware of how the injury occurred, methods to appropriately rehabilitate, and step to prevent future occurrence.
Treatment = Prevention
For the most part, the same techniques and advice to treat injuries are the same ones that reduce future risk. Have a sprained ACL? A physical therapist will likely suggest single leg balance exercises, lunges, and perhaps some core training. Want to reduce the risk of it happening again? No need to re-invent the wheel: just keep doing the same things.
Catching the Problem Early
Patients often show up to therapy after being in pain for months, sometimes years, and yet expect a cure in a couple of weeks. Physical therapy does not work this way. Generally, if you have a problem such as a sore rotator cuff or Achilles tendon strain and attempt to push through pain for months, therapy is going to take a long time. Getting into therapy earlier will decrease the healing time and improve overall return to sports pain free.
Improving sports performance is perhaps the least known part about physical therapy. All physical therapists know how to treat injuries and educate on prevention, but they have much more to offer. Body parts work best in a particular order, such as throwing a baseball, sprinting, or spiking a volleyball. Find a way to make the body work better and the chances of success increase. This is what physical therapists are: masters of biomechanics. They spend years learning optimal body mechanics, in unlocking how each muscle, joint, and tendon work to their fullest. Hang around and ask some questions, you might be surprised what you learn.
Keith Cronin is a physical therapist in the St. Louis area and a member of MomsTeam's Team of Experts.
Posted November 8, 2011; revised April 6, 2015