A glimpse into sports physiotherapy this Olympic Games

August 15, 2016

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The Olympics are a chance for the best athletics in the world to dig deep and bring home a gold medal for their country. But behind every gold medal athlete, there is a team of professionals. Besides coaches and trainers, sports physiotherapists often play a role in helping athletes make it to the top of their game.

What is Sports Physiotherapy?

In the United States, sports physiotherapists are physical therapists who specialize in preventing and treating injuries in athletes. They often work with elite athletics at the highest level, such professional athletics or those at the Olympic level. Sports physical therapy involves working with athletes to promote safe participation in activities, adapt training methods to encourage healing from injuries and improve sports performance.

In some cases, injuries due to sports may be different from everyday injuries. Athletes of various levels often place a lot of demand on their body. They may push their bones, joints and muscles to their limit. Even people who are in shape and train for their sport can get injured. When an injury occurs, sports physical therapists help patients recover and provide education to prevent future injuries from developing.

Responsibilities of a Sports Physical Therapist

Sports physical therapists provide preventative therapy and acute intervention. Preventive therapy involves being proactive and decreasing the risk of injuries. Physical therapists work with athletes to identify injury risks, and design exercise programs and strategies to prevent problems.

In other instances, such as when an injury occurs, therapists treat athletes, so that they can return to their optimal level of functioning. In order to treat athletes, a sports therapist may examine a patient, diagnose an injury or condition and develop a treatment plan. Treatment may include exercises, hydrotherapy and heat and ice therapy. Sports physical therapy may also include methods, such as massage and electrotherapy.

Therapists also work with other professionals to determine when an athlete can safely return to the playing field. Sports physical therapy may also include strategies for improving sports performance.

Although sports physical therapy is a specialty in itself, some therapists narrow their focus even more. Some therapists have expertise and knowledge regarding a specific sport, such as baseball or football. They may primary work with athletes of all levels engaged in a certain sport.

Training to Become a Sports Physical Therapist

In order to work in sports physical therapy, you have to earn a graduate degree in physical therapy. To qualify for a graduate program in physical therapy, a bachelor’s degree is required. Undergrad majors including kinesiology and athletic training are good choices. But whatever major you choose, it’s important to take classes in chemistry, biology, and anatomy.

Graduate physical therapy programs vary in length but often take about three years to complete and a doctorate is awarded. There are also six-year programs that combine undergrad and graduate studies. After earning a graduate degree in physical therapy, graduates are eligible to take an exam for licensure.

The next step is earning a specialty certification from the American Board of Specialty Certifications. Various paths are available for eligibility to earn the certification including completing 2000 hours working in sports therapy or completing post-grad work in a pulmonary or cardiovascular PT residency.


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