Sports physio is a speciality within physiotherapy. It is dedicated to the assessment and treatment of injuries related to sports and exercise at all levels and ages. Whether the sport is running the marathon, playing football for Scotland or climbing Everest, each injury has to be considered in the context of the demands of the activity. As well as getting you out of pain and back to fitness, sports physio’s are also focused on the performance and development of the individual.
Sports injuries are different to normal day-to-day injuries. The demands of sport on the body are higher than everyday activities such as walking. This places more pressure on the joints, ligaments, muscles and also tendons and can make them prone to injury.
The term ‘sports physiotherapist’ is not a protected title in the UK, unlike in Australia for example. This means that any physiotherapist in the UK can call themselves a ‘sports physiotherapist’. It is essential that if someone wants to see a sports physiotherapist that the physiotherapist has the necessary knowledge, skills and experience.
At Core Sports Injury Clinic we have very experienced ‘sports physiotherapists’. Alongside their work at Core, our physiotherapists also work with Scottish Rugby, Scottish Premiership Football and Scottish Athletics.
What does a sports physiotherapist do?
Sports physiotherapists have a multi-faceted role which includes:
- Assessment of injuries. This requires careful and comprehensive questioning about the current injury. Also, previous injuries and will involve a thorough examination of the body.
- Identifying the root cause of the injury. Often the root cause is not where the pain is located. A thorough assessment will identify the factors that have contributed to the injury.
- Development of an individualised treatment plan. This will address all weaknesses and imbalances. We want an athlete to come back stronger from their injury to prevent re-occurrence.
- Improve the strength and mechanics of other parts of the body. This is essential especially if an athlete needs a period of time away from sport during recovery.
- Applying realistic timescales for their return to sport. This is a skill and only comes with experience. Injuries heal at different rates in different people.
- Working as part of a multi-disciplinary team. This may be the immediate team e.g. coach, team manager, sports doctor or parent. It may require a referral to the extended team e.g. sports psychologist or dietitian.
- Injury prevention. Identifying all the risk factors to an injury and implementing a plan to address them.
Let’s look at a few elements of this in more detail;
How do sports physiotherapists assess your injury?
A sports physiotherapist will carry out a comprehensive assessment of the injured area. They will also assess the whole kinetic chain involved in the specific movement pattern of the sport. For example, a footballer will be assessed differently from a runner. This will identify why the injury occurred in the first place. Thus allowing a specific treatment programme. They will also require information about your current training programme. Things like weekly load and important competitions you have. Your treatment programme will always be specific to your individual needs and specifically with these goals in mind.
Sports physiotherapists will also use a set of tests and equipment to gain data. This set’s a baseline level of your current strengths and weaknesses. Injury is a very frustrating experience for athletes. Setting goals and targets is an excellent way of keeping athletes motivated. This is a key skill of sports physiotherapists.
Using data a sports physiotherapist will build a profile of the athlete. Here are a few examples of what this may include:
Diagnostic ultrasound scan to assess and track injuries
- ultrasound is excellent at visualising muscles, tendons and joints. Often better than MRI.
Muscle length testing
- a comprehensive examination of your muscle length. This is carried out to identify any key muscle imbalances using a series of validated and reliable tests.
- Using specialist equipment that tests the strength of your muscle. For example, at Core Physio, we use special dynamometers. This will provide key strength information that we can compare to your other side. Or benchmark you against other athletes we treat. This will identify muscle imbalance and weaknesses.
How do sports physiotherapists treat your injury?
In sport, it’s all about the marginal gains, and the treatment of sports injuries is no different. Sports physiotherapists are always striving to find new treatment techniques or equipment important to an athlete’s recovery.
A sports physiotherapist is competent in hands-on treatment. Also has extensive training and experience in soft tissue techniques. However, where they often stand out is their injury management and rehabilitation skills. Many have studied strength and conditioning. Ensuring they periodise your rehabilitation and develop your athletic ability. Allowing you to come back stronger from injury. Lack of strength is often a key risk factor for many. Joint, tendon and muscle injuries form a key part of most treatment regimes and injury prevention programmes.
Sports injuries can be complicated and often a team approach is required to get an athlete back on track. This may require a review by a surgeon, a sports doctor or your GP. It is essential that all the health care professionals involved are working together. The team around you is essential. At Core Physio, we have a great team and work closely with many world-renowned sports doctors and surgeons. Ensuring you are fully informed about your injury and are presented with all the treatment options available to you.
To ensure you get back on track as quickly as possible there are certain services that can optimise your recovery. These are not required in all cases but can provide an effective adjunct to treatment. We provide all these services; If you would like to discuss these in more detail please do not hesitate to contact us.
Shockwave is an effective treatment modality for many tendon complaints. Particularly those related to running such as proximal hamstring, Achilles and plantar fasciitis.
Occlusion is used following operations or when an athlete needs to gain strength and muscle bulk. Most strength training occurs at 70-80% of one-rep max (1RM). However, occlusion therapy allows improvements in strength and muscle bulk at 30% of a one-rep max (1RM). This means less joint compression and ultimately less pain.
AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill
This is used mainly for lower limb problems.
Unweighting’s achieved in the AlterG by using air in a pressure-controlled chamber.
Precise calibration using the patented technology allows for very specific unweighting. From 100-20% of the user’s body weight in 1% increments.
Something no other unweighting modality can do.
Ultrasound-guided injections can be a useful adjunct to reduce pain. These should be for injuries where the pain is the limiting factor to participating in rehabilitation. A steroid injection or a hyaluronic acid has an anti-inflammatory effect. Thus providing a significant reduction in pain. This can speed up the recovery process. Also, provide a window of opportunity to engage in a rehabilitation programme.
Return to Sport
Your treatment and recovery do not stop when you are pain-free and back to sport. This biggest risk factor to injury is having the same injury as before. The recurrence of sports injuries is high, for example, for Achilles tendon pain it is 50%. Implementing an effective prevention regime is essential for any athlete.
The ideal situation is that we prevent injuries before they even occur. Injury prevention is a specialised area. There is a growing body of scientific evidence highlighting what causes sports injuries and what can prevent them. This may involve load monitoring and management. Also lifestyle management. Diet/nutrition advice, and more technical analysis e.g. running re-training.
Providing education and resources to the athletes is essential. This includes ensuring that the athlete has an in-depth understanding of the injury. Also why the injury occurred in the first place and the action that is necessary to ensure it does not return.
If you have any questions about a sports injury or would like to find out who the best ‘sports physiotherapist’ is at Core Physio for your specific problem then please do not hesitate to contact us. For enquiries or to book an appointment please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us 01698 540380.