When you’re a professional athlete, injury can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your season. You can often return to your sport faster than expected, with the help of a dedicated rehabilitation program.
A physical therapist can be a valuable asset in determining when it’s safe to begin exercise again and, more importantly, what type of exercises are most appropriate for your injury. Physical therapists have advanced training in the musculoskeletal system and are qualified to create a customized recovery plan for your specific injury.
In the first phase of injury rehab, your physical therapist injury rehab physical training (PT) will focus on pain symptoms and offloading movement of the injured area. This means modifying workouts to take the pressure off the injured area and protect it from further trauma. This is not to say that you will not engage in any movement at all; in fact, your PT will encourage movement and mobility through therapeutic exercise and muscle stretching to restore flexibility. Exercises like thoracic spine windmills, shoulder pass-throughs, and walking hip openers are a few examples of this.
As you move forward in your injury rehab, the physiotherapist will start to slowly introduce more exercise intensity into your training. This will include cardiovascular endurance training and light strength training. For example, you might begin to introduce some jogging or stationary cycling while you recover from an ankle injury. In addition, your therapist may begin to incorporate some strength training using lower loads and higher reps to get you back into a more loaded movement pattern again.
During the final phase of injury rehab, your physical therapist will focus on improving coordination. Your body must learn to work again, and your therapist will teach you how to perform these movements in a balanced way that minimizes strain on the injured region. A therapist will also use this opportunity to introduce plyometric (explosive strength) training if appropriate for your injury.
It’s important to remember that injury recovery is a process and it can be tempting to push through an injury when you feel strong enough. However, this can lead to re-injury and set you back in your recovery. The best and most responsible approach is to be guided by a qualified and empathetic physical therapist.