If you think of Physical Therapists or Chiropractors only as injury rehab specialists, you’re missing out. Getting a movement and mobility assessment in the pre-season could prevent injury all season long. In this article, learn about the difference between PT and Chiropractic, how to find the right sports care provider for you, and take action with some injury prevention tips.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from "An Outdoor Athlete's Guide to Sports Care," an ebook that I wrote for GritLink, which you can download by joining as a FREE member!
Physical Therapists: Movement Specialists
If you intend to have a lifetime of fitness, fun, and adventure, a proper movement assessment is critical to this longevity. Bruk Ballenger, Owner and PT at Prevail Physical Therapy in Seattle tells us, “Injury prevention is one of the realms of improving performance. Higher level athletes, and older athletes who have seen it all, have the best understanding of this. Nobody can train as effectively as they would like to when they are hurt.”
The best time to tackle injury prevention with a PT is in the off-season, when you can focus on improving your mechanics, strength, and mobility without adding to the stress of a high training volume plan. If you wait until you experience acute or chronic pain in the peak of your season before you visit a PT, band-aid solutions will be the only treatment available without a drastic modification to your training plan. Mike Rogers, Owner and PT at Paragon Fitness Physical Therapy in Seattle tells us, with a smirk, “I don’t care about your pain.” He further explains, “The benefits of working with a PT are to identify the weaknesses that are causing pain, not treating the pain itself.”
Questions to consider when searching for a PT:
What sports do they specialize in?
How long have they been working with athletes in this/these sport(s)?
How long do they spend with their patients? Do their patients meet with the PT directly, or with their assistants?
What treatment methods do they use? PTs use a variety of hands-on treatment methods including massage, myofascial release, deep tissue work, and more. Ask lots of probing questions about this one to weed out any modalities that are unproven or gimicky.
PT-inspired injury prevention tips:
Work with a coach to get a well-designed, individualized training plan
Follow a supplemental strength training program that focuses on the weakest links that have been identified by an expert
Take ample time to recover from harder workouts and races
Get a comprehensive biomechanical assessment
Chiropractors: Alignment Specialists
The Chiropractors’ toolbox includes techniques for skeletal alignment, soft-tissue manipulation, and rehabilitation. In addition to the DC (Doctor of Chiropractic) or CCSP (Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician) credentials, some common qualifications and techniques that you may see on a Chiropractor’s list of services include:
Active Release Technique
Selective Functional Movement Assessment
Functional Range Release
Functional Range Conditioning
Functional Movement Taping
Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization
Pain can certainly be an indicator for seeing a Chiropractor, but the ideal scenario is to check in with a Chiropractor when you are healthy, in the early stages of your training, so that you can avoid crisis mode down the road. When you are healthy, a Chiropractic assessment will include a joint-by-joint baseline functional screen that may include an analysis of gait, squats, unilateral stability, hip extension, overhead reach, and core stability - and observes the level of pain, stiffness, and tightness in the joints for each movement. Dr. Joe Farris, Chiropractor at Tangelo Chiropractor & Rehab in Seattle, views his job as “giving the gift of physical autonomy, rewiring your software to create the new norm.”
If you are further in your training cycle and are experiencing a sensation that something is structurally off - like your gait is unbalanced, or your muscles are not firing equally on both sides - a Chiropractor can help. Dr. Curt Rindal at Rindal Sports Chiropractic in Seattle stresses the importance of getting an acute pain looked at sooner rather than later: “Typically, if an athlete experiences an injury and it doesn’t improve within a week with rest, soft tissue self-release, stretching, or ice, it can help speed recovery if I see them right away, before the issue turns into a chronic injury.”
Questions to consider when searching for a Chiropractor:
What is their familiarity with your specific sport?
What are their specialty certifications that are relevant to working with an athlete in your sport and/or with your health concern?
What does a typical treatment involve? What utilities do they use in their practice? (i.e. adjustments, soft tissue, movement, manual therapy, etc.)
What type of techniques do they use when performing an adjustment?
Do they adjust extremities?
Chiropractor-inspired injury prevention tips:
Self-release to the muscles that are being used the most (i.e. foam roller, lacrosse ball, hypervolt, tiger tail/stick, etc).
Resistance bands. “Most sports are very linear,“ Dr. Curt says. “Having a maintenance strength program that uses bands to incorporate lateral movements, pulling movements, overhead movements and squatting movements is a great way to help prevent injuries.”
“Do the prep work” before each activity, as Dr. Joe advises. Engage in light movement before your training, and take deliberate time to recover afterwards.
Join GritLink today as a FREE member in order to gain access to a directory of sports care providers who are specialists in working with endurance athletes, as well as the full copy of the ebook, "An Outdoor Athlete's Guide to Sports Care." The GritLink Provider Network includes Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Strength & Conditioning Coaches, and Dietitians/Nutritionists. You will also gain access to GritLink University, a resource of articles, videos, and podcasts from the trusted providers in the GritLink Network as well as other experts in the field of endurance and outdoor sports.