If you are a sports enthusiast and have suffered an injury, physical therapy can help to get you back in the game. At any stage of your recovery journey, physical therapy provides evidence-based physical exercises that target specific areas of the body to ensure proper healing, improve overall fitness and minimize further damage. Sports physical therapy is organized into five distinct phases - acute or initial phase, subacute phase, strength training phase, sport activity phase and return to activity phase - all designed to treat the injury from beginning to end. So if you're coming in for treatment after an injury, let's explore each of these relevant phases!
The acute or initial phase of sports physical therapy - the goal is to reduce pain and inflammation
Starting physical therapy for a sports-related injury is the first step to getting you back on the playing field. The acute or initial phase of sports physical therapy, also known as phase 1, has one goal in mind - reduce pain and inflammation while providing support and stability to your injured area. This phase will primarily focus on regaining range of motion and muscle control, as well as teaching you basic techniques such as stretching exercises that you can do at home. During this early stage of rehab, it’s important to be patient as reaching your desired level of healing quickly depends on your compliance with the treatment program set up by your therapist.
If you can put out the fire, you can begin to rebuild the body better than it was before. As much as we want to be able to skip past this phase, we simply can't.
The sub-acute phase - focus on improving range of motion and strength
The second phase of sports physical therapy, the sub-acute phase, is all about setting you up for success. It's when with the help of your physical therapist, you can start to regain the mobility and strength that was inhibited due to injury. During this crucial step in recovery, your physical therapist will help you create individualized exercises and stretches specifically designed to improve both range of motion and strength. Each exercise helps pave the way to better performance on the field while furthering progress towards full recovery. With guidance from a physical therapist as well as determination on your end, it won't be long until you'll be back on the field playing your favorite sport!
During the sub-acute phase we work on loading the injured area as much as we can without setting ourselves back. This really is not a no pain, no gain situation. We have to respect what our body tells us and back off when needed. In order to move to the next phase your injury should be much less irritable, range of motion should be close to normal, and pain level should be low.
Strength training phase - increase muscular strength and endurance
The third phase of sports physical therapy, the strength training phase, is all about increasing muscular strength and endurance. This phase targets specific areas of focus that promote increased strength through dynamic movements like squats and lunges, helping to improve the proper alignment of a body in movement. It also engages the entire body in progression-based exercises that provide varying levels of difficulty while keeping exercise fun and interesting. In addition to improving muscular strength, this phase stimulates an overall gain in functional movement and increased flexibility, making it an important part of sports rehab!
Sports activity phase - gradually advance physical activity levels to meet sports
The sports activity phase of a physical therapy program is focused on gradually advancing physical activity levels to help injured athletes meet their performance goals. This phase typically involves continuing exercises from previous phases, in addition to starting activities that mimic sports-specific movements while placing minimal stress on the injury. In this way, rehabilitation can occur effectively and safely, allowing athletes to rebuild strength, agility, and flexibility through progressive overload. With the proper plan, knowledge, and dedication on the part of both the athlete and the physical therapist working together towards the same goal, returning back to activity will be a successful endeavor!
Return to activity phase - develop skills and drills that are necessary for success in your chosen sport
During the return-to-activity phase of physical therapy, athletes are given drills and skills that are tailored to their chosen sport. This phase is an important time for athletes to practice those movements specific to their sport while also making sure they do not re-injure themselves. It can be a fun and rewarding advancement as it allows athletes to develop skills and techniques needed for success in their sport. Coaches can help lead drills and activities that help prepare returning athletes for competition. Physical therapists can work with both coaches and athletes to make sure any potential risk of re-injury is minimized while building greater confidence in their sport!
Sports physical therapy is a great way to heal and maintain athletic optimal performance. Each of the five phases, from acute/initial phase through return to activity, provide focused care that serves as a vital component of sports rehabilitation. The overall goal of these phases is to restore an athlete's body to its pre-injury state with the ability to achieve their goals in sport, fitness and life. A sports therapist who understands the unique needs of each individual athlete can facilitate a safe and effective healing journey which will guide the return to their desired level of sport. With dedication and commitment, athletes can focus on achieving their sport performance goals while they take the necessary steps towards recovery with each step along the way.