Sports Medicine

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Sports Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Treatment

There are about 8.6 million sports related injuries every year in the United States according to the CDC. For most of those injured athletes, what might you guess is the number one thing they want to do after getting hurt?

They want to get back out there. On the field. On the court. On the ice. At the track. At the gym. For athletic-minded people, whether playing professionally, at college, in school, as a casual competitor, or going against their own limitations, being out there is number one. Nothing is more frustrating than to be compelled to stay home or on the bench to deal with an injury.

Sports medicine has emerged as a specialty for exactly this reason. 

Traditional doctors don’t ‘get’ athletes. And, they are not as attuned to the specific motions and exertions required in individual sports that put extra strain upon certain joints, muscles, and ligaments that most people don’t have to worry about. 

If you’re an athlete at any level, form, or stage of life, you understand all this, and that’s why you’re here. You’re here either because you’re tired of being injured and want to know what you can to do restore your previous level of performance, or because you want to prevent future injuries from happening and want talk to a specialist who can actually help you achieve that. 

You’re about to learn the basics of sports medicine. What it is, how it relates to sports physiotherapy, how it can help you, and much more. Use the table of contents below or just keep reading.

The Ultimate Guide to Sports Medicine

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The Ultimate Guide to Sports Medicine

What Is Sports Medicine?

Sports medicine is a somewhat broad term that includes a variety of specialists all bound by one commonality – serving patients who take part in athletics. They either work exclusively with athletes, or they have the skills to provide targeted care to people who experience athletic related injuries. 

Under this broad group you will find sports medicine specialists such as sports medicine doctors, sports physiotherapists, regular physiotherapists, sports massage therapists, athletic therapists, and trainers. 

Some of these work with sports teams or athletic departments, some with individuals. Sometimes more than one specialist works with the same person or team, and their various skillsets and strengths will complement each other. 

The goal of sports medicine specialists is clear: Treat injuries that have already happened, restore the athlete to their fullest potential, and work to prevent future injuries from occurring in ongoing athletic activity.

 

You could seek help from a sports medicine specialist for any of the following reasons:

  • You have a sports injury and need treatment
  • You are not injured, but want a training regimen to help you stay that way
  • You need to regain your athletic performance after an injury or surgery
  • You want to maintain your current athletic performance and lifestyle
 
 We’ll get to some of the differences between the various specialties in a moment. But what makes sports doctors so helpful is that they understand the movement and physical demands of particular sports. They know what your body must be able to endure to keep performing in your sport. 

And with that knowledge, they can recommend treatments that will help someone with a sports injury to regain their full strength and return to the field ready to compete.

They can also teach you how to apply proper mechanics to your body so you are moving your joints, muscles, and ligaments in the safest and best ways. Plus, if you have a specialist on site during your competitions, they can assess and possibly treat injuries on the spot, depending on the severity.

See 11 basic competencies required of sports physiotherapists

For example, suppose you’ve had an ACL injury and your knee had to be reconstructed. The sports doctor understands that your ACL is what allows you to run, pivot, kick, and change directions. That’s why this is one of the most common knee ligaments injured in sports. 

After the surgery gets performed by a sports doctor, a sports physiotherapist can help you rebuild your strength and repair the damage so you can return to the field.

One common tool used by sports medicine doctors is arthroscopy. This process involves a tiny flexible tool that gets inserted into a joint. It includes a camera and a light so it can examine the problem in your knee, shoulder, elbow, or ankle, and determine what needs to be done to repair the damage. This may or may not include surgery.

Check out this great exercise which is ideal for running-specific strength, courtesy of Physio Plus Health Group.

How Can Sports Rehab Help Me?

Sports injuries can impact so many different parts of your body, in just about every sport. Consider:

  • Ligament injuries – usually the result of intense performance combined with fatigue
  • Concussions – result from impacts to the head
  • Muscle strains – when a muscle is stretched beyond capacity
  • Fractures – including minor and major varieties
  • Contusions – bruises that damage muscle fibers, nerves, and blood vessels
  • Chronic pain – builds up slowly from continuous use of specific joints, ligaments, or muscles

And if you stay active long enough, you can wear down your cartilage and suffer from arthritis.

 

Sports medicine can treat or help you manage all of these conditions and injuries. Yes, even arthritis, which may be able to be delayed using a process called articular cartilage restoration, which stimulates growth of new cartilage in your joints. See how sports medicine treats this and a variety of other injuries.

For instance, with a fracture, after the initial surgery you may need a cast. Sometimes the time spent in a cast can be reduced for more complicated breaks if your sports doctor uses rods, screws, and plates to help the bones heal faster. But after this initial treatment, you’ll need to rehab from your injury.

Whether suffering a fracture or any other type of sports injury, let’s look at how a sport rehab regimen can help you.

The main goal is to develop a program that will address what is causing your pain, restore functionality to your muscles and joints, rebuild your strength, and give you back your symmetry and balance to get you back on the field. 

In implementing such a program, sports physiotherapists will use techniques like exercise therapy, dry needling, taping, shockwave therapy, and various drills specific to whatever sport you play. 

Get help from a sports medicine specialist, not a typical doctor, if an injury is preventing you from playing and competing. The specialist can also teach you how to safely train while you rehab from your injury. They can show you how to know when to stop playing because of pain. They can help you know your limits.

Sometimes, you have an injury but need to play just one more game, such as the final game in a tournament. Depending on the injury, a sports medicine specialist may be able to get your body ready to play that last game before you can devote more extensive time to healing and restoring from your injury afterward.

The Difference Between Sports Physiotherapists and Sports Doctors

Let’s clarify a few of the differences between some of these sports medicine specialists. 

Sports doctors are the ones who diagnose injuries and disorders and perform the actual procedures, such as surgery, to remedy the problem. They will also prescribe medication and develop methods for you to help reduce further injury. 

These are like any other doctor in terms of their credentials. They go to medical school and get licensed like any other. But they have chosen to specialize in sports-related injuries and treatments. 

A sports physiotherapist uses non-invasive techniques to produce long term healing and revived performance. They tend to work with you for a longer period of time than the doctor. Your sports doctor may even refer you to a sports physiotherapist if you will need sustained physical therapy to rebuild and restore your muscle, joint, or ligament functionality. 

The sports physiotherapist’s goal is to help you move freely again, with proper form. 

They will teach you how to practice the various exercises you’ll learn from them. They may use dry needling to accelerate the healing of certain muscular injuries and to restore your full range of motion. 

If you have nagging pain keeping you from performing at your best, a sports physiotherapist can develop a customized treatment plan. 

More differences between sports physiotherapists and doctors

Check out this video about Runners’ Core Workout, courtesy of Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Clinic Physiotherapy 

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Find out whether physiotherapy can help you get back to doing the things you love in life. 

The Difference Between Sports Physiotherapists and Athletic Therapists

An athletic therapist may be thought of as a sports physiotherapist specialist. There is a lot of overlap here. 

Both specialists work to help you prevent injuries, manage pain, and rehabilitate injuries to your muscles and bones so you can experience the full range of motion and physical independence you need to get back on the field. Neither requires a referral from a physician. Both create personalized treatment plans. 

Both are very familiar with the musculoskeletal system, meaning muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. They know how to assess sports injuries and develop sports rehab plans. 

And, both use similar treatment methods, including mobilizations, sports massage, taping, stretching, acupuncture, electrotherapy, biomechanics, and exercise training and education.


That’s a lot in common. But as you’ll see, the differences are significant. Here are the main ones you need to know:

  • Athletic therapists focus on the musculoskeletal system. 
  • Sports physiotherapists also consider your neurological and cardiovascular health, which are deeply connected to your muscles
  • Physios have a broader knowledge base and more medical background
  • Athletic therapists are more intimately familiar with sports, often specific sports. They will ‘get’ you, and will be familiar with sport-specific programs for rehab, restoration, and strengthening
  • Physiotherapists treat people of all ages and all levels of activity
  • Athletic therapists tend to focus especially on athletes and active people, which can include kids and active seniors such as someone with a hip problem hindering them from exercising
  • Physiotherapists will treat acute and chronic injuries, and pain
  • Athletic therapists are quick thinkers who can assess injuries in the moment, right on the field. You often see them traveling with teams and athletes during competitions, including at the Olympics. Physios tend to work in sports clinics or hospital settings

Who you end up seeing may well depend on who your insurance will cover, because both are able to help treat many of the same conditions. 

Common Sports Injuries Successfully Treated with Sports Physiotherapy

Whether you golf, run, swim, or play sports like basketball, hockey, or racquetball, the great majority of sports injuries you can suffer will be treatable by a sports physiotherapist.

Here are some of the most common sports injuries that can be treated:

  • Bruising, also known as contusions
  • Torn ligaments and tendons
  • Ankle and ligament sprains
  • Muscle strains and other injuries
  • Dislocated joints
  • Subluxations
  • Achilles tears
  • Bone fractures, both minor and major
  • SLAP injuries

A SLAP injury refers to the ‘superior labrum anterior and posterior’, which is a tendon connected to your biceps. 

Check out these 4 simple exercises by Aurora Sports Medicine Professionals for a healthy golf swing:

9 Things to Do Right Now if You Have a Sports Injury

As long as it’s not a fracture or an injury that requires immediate attention, what should you do to help your body heal from a sports injury?

As an athlete or highly active person, you need more than ‘rest and drink plenty of fluids.’ 

One sports physiotherapist developed a 9-part response to sports injuries – things you can do yourself, or with the help of a physiotherapist.

Their system is an acronym – PEACE and LOVE

Protect your body by avoiding activities and motions that increase your pain

Elevate your injured area, if possible, above your heart to reduce inflammation

Anti-inflammatories – consult a doctor before using these, but they can help manage your pain

Compress the injured area with taping or elastic bandages to reduce swelling

Educate yourself about your injury

Load – as you rehabilitate, limit your efforts using pain as your guide

Optimism – be positive and confident about your healing and restoration plans; let your mind take part in your healing

Vascularisation – look for cardio exercises that don’t cause pain, and start doing them regularly

Exercise consistently to restore your strength and mobility faster than you would just laying around

What Is Kinesiology Tape and How Can It Help?

Kinesiology tape was created with the goal of providing support and helping reduce pain and swelling without compromising any range of motion or athletic performance. It achieves this in part by its extreme stretchiness. The original tape was a blend of cotton and nylon, designed to blend with your skin’s elasticity. 

Unlike things like knee braces which can limit motion, sports taping is also water resistant and can stay on your body for days, even through a shower. 

How and why does sports taping work?

The theory behind it is that taping gently lifts the skin and creates more spacing within your joints and muscles, thus reducing the pressure from your skin. This tension reduces muscle and joint irritation and causes the pain receptors to send new signals to your brain. When a muscle is knotted up, sports taping can help reduce the tightness. 

It is also believed that sports taping increases the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid, which reduces swelling. Again, this is also one goal of bracing, but with taping you don’t restrict any range of motion.

How do sports physiotherapists use kinesiology tape?

They like to combine it with their other treatment methods. By itself, taping can only make so much of a difference. But in combination with stretching, exercises, dry needling, and other sports physical therapy strategies, taping can help reduce your pain and swelling so you can continue to perform at the level of activity that’s important to you.

Physios will use taping to support weakened areas caused by things like Achilles tendonitis, or patellofemoral stress in your knees. 

Taping can help retrain muscles that have either lost their functionality while healing from a broken bone or recovering from a stroke or an accident. It can also help correct muscles that have become accustomed to working in an unhealthy or improper manner, such as bad posture.

Marathon runners often use taping because it enables them to perform at a higher level for longer, without experiencing as much pain or swelling. 

Learn more about how to apply tape, how to remove it, and when not to tape

Need to See a Sports Medicine Specialist?

Your best first step is to look for someone in your area who identifies themselves as a sports medicine specialist. If you want to visit a clinic or hospital, seek a physiotherapist. If you want someone to travel with you or your team, look for an athletic therapist. If you have a severe injury, look for a sports physician first. 

If you find yourself with too many choices, try to find someone who has more experience with your particular sport or athletic activity. And of course, some may be covered by insurance and some may not. 

Use what you’ve learned from this guide to find the best sports medicine specialist for you.

Common Injuries Successfully Treated with Sports Medicine Physiotherapy

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have tight muscles then Kegels are NOT the thing for you…there is no need to contract muscles that are already short or tight. BUT if you have weak muscles then Kegels (when done properly) can be helpful.

Sure can! Painful intercourse can stem from a number of issues. Generally speaking, pelvic floor muscles are tight with painful intercourse. This can be from stress, your posture, previous childbirth(s) etc. It’s best to have a full assessment with a pelvic floor physiotherapist to explore your specific situation.

Short answer: No, you don’t and there are tons of techniques we can use to help you externally. Long answer: Having an internal exam from a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist will provide the most information about your specific pelvic issue allowing a more complete understanding to move forward with a treatment plan of action.

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