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What’s the Difference Between a Physical Therapist and a Sports Physical Therapist?

If you’ve suffered an orthopedic injury, physical therapy will likely be an important component of your treatment plan. Whether you undergo physical therapy as a standalone treatment or as part of rehab after orthopedic surgery, these treatments play a critical role in helping you restore proper strength and flexibility and regain full function of the injured region of your body.

When seeking treatment, you may wonder whether you should visit a physical therapist or a sports physical therapist. While these two health professionals practice under the same healthcare discipline and have some overlap in their services, they are two distinct types of practitioners, and it’s important to understand which one is right for your specific needs.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy encompasses many treatments and techniques that will help strengthen your body, improve mobility, and restore function after an injury. In addition, the strength and mobility benefits associated with physical therapy can help you prevent re-injury.

Physical therapists are licensed healthcare professionals who work with all types of patients, regardless of the cause of their condition. You may need to visit a physical therapist if you:

What Is Sports Physical Therapy?

While sports physical therapy often addresses injuries similar to physical therapy, this discipline focuses on treating athletes. It is a subset of the physical therapy discipline and focuses on restoring strength, mobility, and function while you heal from a sports injury.

Sports physical therapists are licensed physical therapists who undergo additional training and certifications in sports medicine. This specialization helps them address the specific needs of athletes recovering from injury.

Key Distinctions Between Physical Therapy and Sports Physical Therapy

There are several important distinctions between these two healthcare professionals:

Patient Population

sports physical therapist Physical therapists treat a broader range of patients. Just about anyone who is rehabbing after surgery or needs to improve strength, mobility, and function as part of the healing process after an injury can work with a physical therapist. These patients typically receive a referral from their primary care doctor.

Sports physical therapists primarily work with athletes. Their patients include both recreational and professional athletes who need the specialized knowledge of a professional who understands the unique demands athletics place on their bodies.

Work Setting

Physical therapists work in clinical settings such as hospitals or private practices. They are often employed by medical groups. Sports physical therapists typically work on-site with sports teams at their athletic facilities and travel with them for games and competitions.

Treatment Goals

There are important differences in treatment goals:

Physical therapy treatments are catered to your specific needs. Your customized care plan may include a variety of treatments, including stretching exercises, electrical stimulation, dry needling, strength exercises, and more. The specific regimen will be dictated by the injury or condition you’re recovering from.

Sports physical therapy includes all the treatments discussed above, but it also focuses on exercises specifically intended to help your body meet the rigorous demands of athletics. The goal is to ensure you can regain the physical function necessary to return to the sports you pursue.

Why Should Athletes Seek Treatment from a Sports Physical Therapist?

sports physical therapy While athletes can receive treatment from a physical therapist, working with a sports physical therapist who has undergone additional training in sports medicine, biomechanics, and injury prevention techniques is often best. These professionals will focus on helping you compete again and perform at your highest level once you’re ready.

Physical therapists will work with you to address the demands of daily life. Once you’ve restored the proper strength and functionality to perform routine daily activities, your physical therapy treatment may be considered successful and complete.

However, this level of function may not be sufficient to return to athletics at a high level. In these situations, you may find that you still struggle with pain and mobility issues while competing. In addition, you may be at an increased risk of reinjury if you don’t wait to compete until your body is sufficiently healed to a level that can withstand the demands athletics place on your body.

Colorado Advanced Orthopedics Can Help

Whether you need the assistance of a general physical therapist or a sports physical therapist, Colorado Advanced Orthopedics can help you recover after an injury. Our in-house physical therapy team includes some of the finest professionals along the Western Slope. In addition, many of our team members have extensive training in sports medicine and can help you optimize your athletic performance once you’re ready to return to competition.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Colorado Advanced Orthopedics serves patients in Meeker, the White River Valley, and the Western Slope.

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