Why Seeing a Physical Therapist—Even if You Don't Think You're Injured—Can Make You a Better Athlete

There's serious value in seeing a therapist even when we don't think we're injured.

If you've ever played a sport or engaged in serious strength training, odds are good that you've been injured at one point or another.

The trauma could've been anything from a tweaked ankle to a more serious injury that carries a significant recovery/rehabilitation protocol. Once you sustained that injury, you did something about it. Your reaction to the injury may have included a visit to a physical therapist.

Although physical therapists can play a pivotal role in your rehab, many of us ignore their ability to play a proactive role in preventing injuries from occurring in the first place. There's serious value in seeing a therapist even when we don't think we're injured.

I am a strength coach and personal trainer, not a physical therapist, so please keep in mind that my opinion is coming from this perspective. That being said, we share our facility with a satellite clinic of a physical therapy clinic. This allows them to focus on working with athletes and the "athletically-minded." In my opinion, a proactive visit to a physical therapist can help you stay ahead of the game and ensure you're not creating poor movement patterns with your lifestyle and training habits.

We have to recognize there's no way to truly "injury-proof" an athlete. The nature of sports means that there can be an unpredictable culmination of circumstances that may make injury unavoidable. And while I am a firm believer that the best "pre-habilitation" is a solid, well-rounded and balanced training program that addresses the entire spectrum of physical ability over time, the reality is that the longer and more frequently you take part in any sport or athletics, the greater the odds you'll eventually run into injury.

This is where having an on-going relationship with a physical therapist can be invaluable. The truth is, many of us walk around blissfully unaware of a condition that puts us at an increased risk of injury. Maybe you have excessive anterior pelvic tilt. Maybe your hips are over-active, reducing the explosive power and strength you can draw from your glutes. Maybe your chest is super tight, pulling your shoulders forward and leading to hunched posture. All of these issues are surprisingly common, yet it can be easy to live your life in ignorance of their existence. A physical therapist has the ability to assess your strengths, weaknesses, and mobility and flexibility limitations. They can use this data to identify injury risks and recommend a plan to correct any issues. The result is a reduced risk of future injury and, if the plan is formulated and followed correctly, better movement both in training and in competition.

Visiting a physical therapist prior to injury can also help you establish physical benchmarks, allowing you see how an injury has affected your movement and help you figure out a proper target for return-to-play. This can be helpful as "normal" ranges of motion are based on an average. For example, shoulder extension can fall anywhere from 45-60 degrees and still be considered "normal." But if you were close to 60 degrees in your initial assessment and find that you're only getting 47 degrees post-injury, that's 13 degrees of lost range of motion. If you hadn't established that baseline, it would've been tough to know just how much the injury had effected you.

Lastly, developing a real relationship with your physical therapist has numerous benefits. The more often they see you, the better they know your body and what makes you tick. On this topic, I'd strongly recommend you utilize a therapist who has experience working with athletes. These individuals will be able to better assess your body and identify your individual needs.

While seeing a physical therapist used to require a referral from a doctor in many states, this is no longer the case.

"One common misconception is that you have to go see your doctor before you come in to see a PT. That's generally not the case in most states," Dr. Matt Stevens, physical therapist and owner of Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), tells STACK. "Most of the time, you can go in to see your PT as a primary point of entry into the medical system."

If you want to stop in for a proactive visit, call your local clinic (remember, try to visit a PT who has prior experience with athletes) and find out the steps you'll need to take to make it happen.

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