Sport specific rehab is a form of physical therapy focused on recovery from an athletic injury. While other forms of physical and occupational therapy work toward a goal of restoring function of the limb or joint to a point suitable for regular everyday activities, the goal of sport specific rehab is to return the patient to active participation in the target sport as soon as possible.
Injury prevention is another aspect of sports medicine and sport specific rehab. During a sports injury rehab program, the physical therapist may suggest exercises to improve balance, restore agility and strengthen the muscles around the injury to help reduce the likelihood of future problems.
How Does Sport Specific Rehab Work?
Rehab after a sports injury typically begins as soon as possible after treatment to stabilize or repair the injury. In some cases, there may be a required period of rest before physical therapy can begin. The physical therapist assesses the condition of the injured area and develops a personalized, sports injury rehab program of exercises and activities to build strength and improve mobility without re-injuring the muscle or joint.
Therapy sessions might include stretching exercises, weight training and flexibility exercises. Massages to loosen the joints, encourage circulation and stretch the muscles are also often a part of sport specific rehab. Neuromuscular retraining may be needed to restore reflex speed and agility.
During the earliest stages of sport specific rehab, the physical therapist reconditions the area and introduces weight loading and stretching activities under controlled conditions. The first sessions may include manual stretching performed by the therapist. Patients later move on to performing stretches on their own. Weight loads are carefully monitored, and weights are increased as the patient meets specific benchmarks during their sport specific rehab therapy.
At later stages, more coordinated activities are reintroduced, and the focus turns to restoring the former level of skill. Sometimes, after a sports injury has seemingly healed, the athlete may feel ready to return to the field before full conditioning is restored. However, getting back into the game too soon could put the patient at risk for further injury. A good physical therapist can assess the athlete’s skill level and monitor use of the previously injured area to ensure the patient is truly ready to return to athletic activity after sport specific rehab treatment.
A physical therapist who specializes in sport specific rehab may also continue to provide treatments and monitoring after the athlete returns to the field. Athletes are typically advised to return to sporting activities gradually, starting with less intense activities for shorter duration before returning to full, active game play.