Sports Physiotherapy

Because of the vast body of knowledge available for physiotherapists in terms of treatment, diagnosis, and management, physios tend to specialise in specific fields. Investing their focus in one specialty means they develop an understanding of all the ins and outs of their chosen field, meaning the best possible care for you.

What is sports physiotherapy?

As the name suggests, sports physiotherapy focuses on injuries sustained while practicing sports. A physios role in this field is not limited to just treating a footballer’s twisted ankle or a rugby player’s strained neck, they also provide preventative advice and information. Athletes’s livelihoods depend on not getting an injury, and so a sports physio’s job is also to give advice about stretching, good form, and posture for example. A sports physio is also trained evaluate an injury and detect any signs of deeper trauma or damage that may indicate an adverse condition of which you might not be aware of.

Access to sports physiotherapists is not limited to the professional athlete, many hospital based physios will have some background in sports physiotherapy. Many people incorporate sports into their day to day lives, and are, if anything, actually more likely to develop injury as they invest less time into perfecting and optimising their performance. If you’ve injured yourself during your Sunday five-a-side or while out for your morning run, there will be a physio who is qualified and experienced in the field to provide you with easy access support and recovery.

What does a sports physiotherapist do?

In terms of treatment, a sports physio begins like any other, by taking a comprehensive personal history and examining the injury as thoroughly as possible. Treatment can only really be effectively carried out when a professional knows which specific parts of your body’s mechanism have been affected.

The first step is taking a history which accounts for previous injury, the nature of the sport practiced, and any family history of similar injury or potential underlying causes. After establishing a patient history, your therapist will go on to conduct a methodical and thorough examination of your injury. This will often include an examination of unaffected areas as well to allow the physiotherapist to adjust their findings to your physiology. Everyone’s body is different, and what might feel like a swelling in one person might be how someone else’s leg is shaped.

Posture, movement, gait, pain, and stiffness are some of the categories assessed during this stage. These findings are subjective to some extent, and hence rely on your honesty as much as, if not more than, the skill of the therapist involved.

After the assessment and evaluation stage, a sports physio has a number of key objectives for treating sports injuries. As they are typically musculoskeletal (affecting the muscular and skeletal systems) these aims are quite generalised and tailored to specific individual needs:

  • Protecting the injury to prevent further damage, facilitate recovery, and to control the first stage of such injuries, inflammation.
  • Return functional movement and use by restoring flexibility and strength in and around the injured area. Depending on the extent of the damage and the area affected, this can be achieved by controlled manipulations, assisted exercise, stretching, and massage.
  • Pain management is also part of a sports physio’s responsibility. The healthiest way to control pain is by physical means, using, for example, deep tissue massage or heat treatments to restore circulation into the affected area. Increasing blood flow brings more of the repairing molecules and nutrients your blood carries around, amongst which are natural pain killers
  • Deciding when you are ready to return to sport. This is possibly the most important role a physiotherapist has because if you go back to exercising regularly and in a normal manner before making a complete recovery, you will just hurt yourself again. Typically a second injury of the same sort is far more damaging and will take even longer to repair. Hence the importance of letting a physio do what they do best and guide you through your treatment plan at a pace that suits your recovery. Often you will feel like you can do more than you are, and by all means discuss it with your therapist, but remember that overtraining at any stage of recovery can cause further injury.

Preventative advice

The generally held consensus across all forms of healthcare is that prevention is far better than cure, and this is no different in sports. Physiotherapists provide advice on how to train properly, maintain proper posture during strength training for example, and how to stretch healthily to keep muscles, tendons, and ligaments warm and supple, hence preventing injury.

Physios can also provide deep tissue massages which can prevent injury by soothing muscles and improving circulation within them after training sessions. Blood flow is critical to the healthy maintenance and function of muscles. Similarly a great way to avoid injury is to have a professional instruct you on how to train a range of muscles involved in sport specific movements to strengthen them.

What kind of injuries are commonly treated?

Sports injuries tend to follow specific patterns within that sport. Impact sports like rugby and lacrosse will often result in injuries as a consequence of collisions with other players. Others, like running, walking, cycling, and swimming, typically feature injuries as a consequence of overtraining, which is where the pace of training far exceeds the body’s ability to cope. Examples of this type of injury include shin splints that commonly affect runners, a condition where micro-fractures occur on the surface of your shin as a result of the repeated impact of your feet against the ground.

That being said however, there is no rulebook to dictate which sport will cause which injury, any part of your body under stress can suffer an injury. These generalised injuries can include various sprains, strains, pulled muscles, and on the other end of the scale, fractures and torn ligaments and tendons.

Almost every major sport now practiced on a professional level will have physios who practice and train with its competitors. Olympic athletes have their own physiotherapists, as do rugby players, footballers, boxers, and mixed martial artists, illustrating the importance of these practitioners in the world of sport.

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