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How to Use Physical Therapy to Recover From Sports Injuries
Rest and rehabilitation are essential to recovering from sports related injuries. If you’ve been injured playing sports, physical therapy can help maximize your chances of healing properly and getting back in the game. Start by getting your injuries evaluated and treated by a medical professional. Your healthcare provider may then refer you to a physical therapist. A physical therapist can prescribe exercises, stretches and a training regime that will help you to regain your strength quickly and fully. Take precautions to avoid injuring yourself again in the future.
Having Your Injuries Evaluated
Go to the doctor if you suspect a sports-related injury.The first step to successfully recovering from a sports injury is getting immediate medical evaluation and treatment. If you hurt yourself or notice pain while playing sports, stop immediately and make an appointment with your primary care provider.
- Some sports injuries are more obvious than others. For example, a sprain or dislocation will probably cause severe and immediate pain. On the other hand, a stress fracture might only cause mild pain while you are actively using the injured part of your body.
- If you have experienced a serious injury, such as a head trauma, a broken bone, or a dislocation, go to the emergency department right away.
Find a therapist who specializes in sports injuries.If you play sports, you are likely to experience a range of common injuries associated with your specific sport. A therapist with experience treating these types of injuries will not only be able to diagnose and treat your injuries effectively, but can also help you master better technique and form so that future injuries will be less likely.
- For example, a physical therapist who is familiar with tennis elbow can prescribe exercises to strengthen the muscles in your arm and shoulder, and can also recommend equipment that will reduce stress on your elbow.
- Ask your primary care provider to recommend a physical therapist who specializes in sports injuries. If you have a coach or personal trainer, they may also be able to recommend someone.
- Check with your insurance company to make sure that the therapist and the facility you’re interested in are in your network.
Provide your therapist with information about your injury.The type of physical therapy that is best for you will depend on the nature and severity of your injury. Provide your therapist with copies of any medical records relating to your injury, including medical images (such as X-rays).
- Tell your therapist when and how the injury occurred, and describe any symptoms you are experiencing (such as pain, swelling, or stiffness).
- Your therapist may also ask you for general health information, such as any medications you are currently taking and any history of health problems or previous injuries.
Allow your therapist to perform a physical exam.During your first meeting, your physical therapist will want to evaluate your injury and your overall physical state. They may also wish to observe you in motion performing activities related to your injury. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allows easy access to the injured part of your body.
- For example, if you’ve sprained your knee, wear shorts. If you dislocated your shoulder, wear a tank top. Bring the shoes that you normally wear during sports activities.
Discuss your recovery goals with your therapist.Your physical therapist can help you get a realistic sense of the ways in which physical therapy can help you, and how soon you can return to your regular activities. Talk to your therapist about what you hope to achieve, and ask if your goals are attainable.
- For example, you might say, “I’d like to get back to playing football within 6 months. Do you think that’s doable?”
- Your therapist will help you break your larger goals down into smaller, more specific goals. They will establish a timeframe for reaching these mini-goals, and help you design a process for reaching them (e.g., “Let’s try these exercises, and work towards you being able to fully extend your elbow by the end of this week.”).
Establishing a Rehabilitation Routine
Go to therapy sessions as recommended by your therapist.Most physical therapy involves regular appointments with your therapist. Depending on the nature of your injuries, it may be necessary to meet with your therapist 1-2 times a week or as often as every day during the rehabilitation process.
- During these appointments, your therapist may help you do exercises and stretches, perform other types of therapy (such as massage), and assess your progress.
Do exercises at home following your therapist’s suggestions.In addition to guiding you through stretches and exercises at their office, your physical therapist will prescribe therapeutic activities that you can do at home.Carefully follow all their instructions regarding technique, how often you should do the exercises, and for how long. Common types of at-home physical therapy exercises and techniques include:
- Range of motion exercises, which may involve gently flexing and extending a joint or moving an injured limb carefully in different directions.
- Strengthening exercises, which may involve using tools such as resistance bands or weights, or using your own body weight to create resistance.
- Static stretches, which can help improve circulation and relieve muscle tension and stiffness.
- Treatments to minimize pain and inflammation, such as using ice-packs or compression bandages.
Adjust your rehabilitation routine as needed.Your rehabilitation program will need regular adjustment as you progress through the recovery process. Early sessions will probably focus mainly on treating the injury, while later phases of the physical therapy process will be more geared toward building strength and restoring your range of motion. The 3 main phases of physical therapy are:
- The acute phase. During this phase, your therapist will focus on managing pain and inflammation, as well as protecting the injured area so that it has time to heal.
- The subacute phase. Therapy during the subacute phase focuses on helping you gradually strengthen the area and restore your range of motion.
- The chronic phase. At this point, your therapist will begin working on getting you prepared to return to your regular pre-injury activities and exercise routines.
Ask your therapist about the best way to stay fit during recovery.During the early stages of recovery, it is important not to do anything that might slow your healing or make the injury worse. You will need to rest the injured part of your body and avoid returning to your regular activities too quickly. Your therapist can recommend low-impact exercises that will help you stay in shape without putting stress on your injury.
- For example, if you’re a runner with a stress fracture in your foot, your physical therapist may recommend water jogging.This is a good form of low-impact cardiovascular exercise.
Preventing Future Injuries
Wear proper protective equipment.Good safety equipment is crucial to preventing injury in many types of sports. Use all the recommended equipment for your sport, and check your equipment regularly to make sure it is not worn out or damaged.
- If you play a contact sport like hockey or football, you will need equipment such as shin pads, a helmet, and a face guard.
- High-quality, well-fitting shoes can also help prevent injury to your ankles, feet, and knees.
Do appropriate warm-ups.Warming up before sports or intense exercise is crucial for increasing joint and muscle flexibility and improving circulation. A proper warm-up should include dynamic stretches and light cardio activity, and should last at least 5 to 10 minutes.
- Dynamic stretches are stretches that you perform while moving, such as lunges and kicks. They are typically held for no longer than a few seconds.
Cool down after playing sports.Cooling down after intense physical activity is important for minimizing stress on your heart and preventing stiffness and soreness. When you’re done exercising or playing sports, cool down with 5 to 10 minutes of light exercise (such as a brisk walk) and do some static stretches to relax your muscles.
- Static stretches are stretches that you hold in a single position for 15 to 20 seconds. For example, you might perform a static hamstring stretch by sitting on the floor with 1 leg stretched out in front of you, then reaching out to touch your toes or your shin.
Work with a therapist, coach or trainer to improve your technique.You can prevent many common sports injuries by using proper technique. Your physical therapist, a coach, or a trainer can help you learn how to use your equipment properly and use your body correctly when you carry out specific movements or actions.
- For example, if you pitch in baseball, your physical therapist can show you how to use your shoulders, legs, and torso to reduce stress on your elbow when you pitch.
Ease into exercises and activities gradually.Many sports injuries, such as stress fractures or tendonitis, result from overuse. In addition to doing proper warm-ups, you can minimize the risk of overuse injuries by gradually increasing the volume and intensity of your exercise.
- Talk to your physical therapist about the best way to safely increase the amount and intensity of your exercise. A good rule of thumb is to increase your activity level by 10% each week until you reach your goal.
- Some injuries do not allow you to return to the sport you used to play. Talk to your doctor and physical therapist about types of exercise that can take the place of this sport.
- Some soreness with physical therapy is to be expected. Keep track of your pain levels, so that you can tell your physical therapist about increased pain. The therapist should be able to tell you if it is normal or abnormal pain.
Video: Lower Back Exercises for Back Physical Therapy : Physical Therapy
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