Sports physical therapy is a type of physical therapy that focuses on rehabilitating recreational and competitive athletes of various kinds, such as football players, baseball players, Crossfitters, weightlifters, and powerlifters.
Sports physical therapy goes beyond traditional physical therapy by emphasizing not only the recovery of injuries, but also optimizing performance. With an emphasis on regaining flexibility, strength, power, and endurance, sports physical therapy plays a vital role in safely returning athletes to their sports and helping them perform even better than before.
The key differences between sports physical therapy and traditional physical therapy lie in the evaluation process, and the treatment programs that are developed for the patients.
While traditional physical therapy aims to restore basic functioning for day-to-day activities and reduce pain, sports physical therapy takes it a step further by incorporating sport-specific exercises, performance enhancement techniques, and injury prevention strategies. It involves an in-depth assessment of an athlete’s biomechanics, strength, endurance, and overall fitness level.
Sports physical therapy begins with a comprehensive evaluation to identify the athlete’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas requiring improvement. The evaluation may include assessing movement patterns, joint mobility, strength, and any deficits that could hinder performance or increase the risk of injury.
For example, a sports physical therapy evaluation for a Crossfit athlete dealing with shoulder pain while snatching might include things like assessing shoulder mobility, thoracic spine mobility, rotator cuff strength, and movement patterns during snatching and other overhead exercises, as well as discussing previous training programs, sleep, nutrition, and hydration.
Once the evaluation is complete, a tailored treatment plan is developed to address the athlete’s unique needs, and is a blend between rehab and strength and conditioning.
The plan often includes targeted exercises to improve flexibility, strength, power, and endurance, with an emphasis on sport-specific movements. If the athlete needs to return to sprinting after a hamstring strain, then things like hopping and skipping drills, plyometrics, and a running/sprinting progression will be a part of the treatment plan.
By developing and implementing a treatment program that is a blend of both rehab work AND strength and conditioning work, sports physical therapists can help athletes return to their prior level of function, return to sport without getting re-injured, and even improve their performance on the court, field, or lifting platform.
If you’re an athlete dealing with an injury that’s affecting their training, click here to request a free consult with our team to see if we’re the right fit for you!