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Physical Therapy for Sports Injuries

Written by
Asha. C
and medically reviewed by Mohammed Wajid

Published on Jul 27, 2022 and last reviewed on Feb 06, 2023   -  6 min read


Injury during sports activities is very common. This article explains the sports injury that can be managed by physical therapy and their benefits.

Physical Therapy for Sports Injuries

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is also known as PT. In physical therapy, trained professionals diagnose and treat abnormal physical function related to disability, injury, or other health conditions. Physical therapists aim to improve a person’s quality of life and range of movement and prevent further injury or disability. A physical therapist helps in taking care of patients during all phases of healing, from the diagnosis of injury to other stages like restoration and preventive stages of recovery. Physical therapy may be a standalone option, or it can be used as a supportive treatment for treatments.

What Type of Sports Injury Can Be Managed by Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy has proven to be an attractive treatment option for a wide range of sports injuries, either by exhausting all treatment options before resorting to surgery or by post-surgery rehabilitation. Treatment may involve a combination of strength and conditioning exercise, red cord therapy, and massage therapy, depending on the specific injury.

Physical therapy can improve recovery in the following sports injury,

  • Ankle Sprains - It is an injury that occurs when the ankle is rolled, twisted, or turned in an awkward way.

  • Tennis Elbow - It occurs when tendons of the elbow are overloaded.

  • Groin Pull - It occurs when there is too much stress on muscles in the groin and thigh.

  • ACL Tear - A tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). A strong band of tissue that helps connect the thigh bone to the shinbone (tibia).

  • Spin Splints - It is referred to pain along the shin bone (largest bone in the front of the lower leg)

  • Hamstring Strains - It results because of muscle overload while running or doing other activities.

  • Knee Meniscus Tear - It is a painful and debilitating knee injury that occurs when there is forceful twisting and causes certain tissue in the knee to tear.

  • Stress Fracture - It is a form of overuse injury that occurs when the muscles are no longer able to absorb the pressure eventually, thereby resulting in a fracture.

  • Muscle Strain - It is one of the most common sports injuries, occurs when a muscle is overstretched and tears.

  • Torn MCL - It is another form of a knee injury that occurs when the medial collateral ligament that connects the femur to the tibia is injured.

  • Achilles Tendonitis - It is the inflammation of the lower back of the leg just above the heel.

Physical therapy is a customized care plan. It improves mobility, reduces or prevents disability and pain, and improves the overall health and wellness of a person.

  • Improve Strength - Strength is crucial for athletes. It is necessary for efficient functional movement, especially when competing at a high level with maximum effort. Strength targeting and conditioning programs are helpful, especially for the demand for year-round sports.

  • Proper Body Mechanics - Strength is considered a foundation for general athletic performance, but proper body mechanics is considered the foundation for skilled athletic performance. Having proper body mechanics established through consistent practice can significantly help minimize injury in the future.

  • Crucial to Injury Recovery - Physical therapy greatly helps regain strength and movement after an injury. Additionally, it also allows an athlete to manage their pain and prevent permanent damage or reoccurring issues with the help of different techniques, exercises, and stretches utilizing specialized equipment that will adequately address the injury.

  • Prevent Surgery - Physical therapy can prevent surgery in a few people as a treatment for a sports injury. Patients can entirely avoid invasive treatment and, in addition, can have a quicker treatment plan.

How Does a Physical Therapist Diagnose Injuries?

During the consultation, the physical therapist will take the time to understand the goals of the patient and discuss their pain or conditions. Following an initial evaluation, the physical therapist will perform an examination as well.

The examination will include:

  • Range of motion measurements.

  • Testing of strength.

  • Balance checking.

  • Functional mobility.

  • Palpitation.

It is important to dress in comfortable clothing that allows free movement.

What Is the Physical Therapy Treatment for a Sports Injury?

Sports injuries are immediately treated with Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation (RICE method is a simple self-care technique that helps ease pain, reduce swelling, and speed up healing). When a sports injury requires rehabilitation, a physical therapist along with chiropractic treatment will work to help an athlete reduce pain and return to their sports activities.

Methods of physical therapy for sports injury are:

  • Cold Compression Therapy - Cold compression therapy devicescombine the analgesic effects of ice with the swelling reduction effects of compression and help in reducing pain and inflammation. With the availability of multiple wraps, cold compression devices are able to treat most areas of the body.

  • Therapeutic Exercise - Therapeutic exercises are physical activities and movements designed to restore flexibility and function, improve strength and decrease pain. Physical therapists use underwater treadmills for functional exercise on injured athletes that will help in returning full strength and pain-free function.

  • Electrical Stimulation - E-stim sends mild electrical pulses through the skin to manipulate nerves to reduce pain or helps in stimulating injured muscles. It also helps in improving circulation and decreasing swelling in the injured area.

  • Therapeutic Ultrasound - Ultrasound is useful to treat muscle injuries closer to the skin’s surface as well as deeper muscle injuries. Ultrasound machines help in increasing local blood flow, relax tissues, and facilitate the healing of scar tissue.

  • Whirlpool Therapy - A whirlpool may be used by a physical therapist to help improve mobility, circulation, and comfort after an injury or after surgery. Most whirlpools used in physical therapy clinics are small. The temperature of the water in the whirlpool can be set warm or cold, depending on the goal of treatment.

    • Warm whirlpools can increase circulation and can bring fresh blood and oxygen to the injured area and promote healing. The temperature of a warm whirlpool is 98 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

    • Cold whirlpools help to decrease circulation to the body part being treated by causing arteries to close. This is used to manage inflammation and swelling. A cold whirlpool temperature is usually between 50 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit

    • A contrast bath treatment involves using both a cold whirlpool and a warm whirlpool on the same body part during treatment which causes the rapid opening and closing of the arteries and helps to decrease swelling around the injured site.

Other treatments for sports injury include -

  • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) - Drugs like Aspirin and Ibuprofen can reduce swelling and pain. Topical analgesics can be a very effective and non-invasive treatment for chronic pain.

  • Immobilization of the Injured Limb - It prevents movement of injured limbs and prevents more damage.

  • Surgery - In some cases, surgical intervention is required to fix sports injuries.

  • Rest - Rest initiates and helps speed up the healing process.


The athlete usually faces many traumatic injuries. It is important to seek and receive treatment that not only returns their function but also provides prevention education in order to avoid future recurrence. Physical therapy focuses on the physical and mental recovery after a sports injury. Treatments are customized and range from specialized massage, taping, and electronic nerve stimulation machines. Physical therapy will also work to strengthen the surrounding areas, which tend to weaken when the affected area is not in use.

Last reviewed at:
06 Feb 2023  -  6 min read




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