A sports physical therapist is a recognised professional who demonstrates
advanced competencies in
• the promotion of safe physical activity participation,
• provision of advice, and
• adaptation of rehabilitation and training interventions
for the purposes of
• preventing injury,
• restoring optimal function, and
• contributing to the enhancement of sports performance
in athletes of all ages and abilities, while ensuring a high standard of professional and ethical practice.
Where do Sports Physical Therapists Work?
Sports physical therapists work in a variety of contexts. They are most often known as being the first responder at training and competition sites. They may be associated with a sport or athletics team, club, or association. However, sports physical therapists also work in private and state-run hospitals or clinics, and in recreational exercise and sports facilities.
It may be possible to locate a sports physical therapist through your doctor or hospital. Many private sports physical therapists advertise locally or can be located through the internet.
What do Sports Physical Therapists Do?
Sports physical therapists have several specific aims when working directly with athletes, and several professional targets to ensure that the profession continues to develop. Above all, sports physical therapists are interested in helping individuals to maximise their potential and safely enjoy sport, athletics, exercise, and healthy physical activity.
Sports physical therapists are involved in preventing injuries. They analyze the risk of injury for an individual participating in a specific sport. To do this, it is important that they understand different medical conditions or previous injuries, so they can identify risks to the athlete. They also have in-depth knowledge of the sport or exercise, including specific movements, hazards, equipment, and environments. Sports physical therapists use this knowledge to design and implement strategies that aim to reduce the risks of injury.
A second important role of the sports physical therapist starts when an injury or illness occurs during training or competition. This is called “acute intervention” as the sports physiotherapist must rapidly recognise the symptoms and take action. In severe cases this may require basic life support. More frequently, the sports physiotherapist must work independently, or with other medical personnel, to decide whether or not the athlete can safely return to play. They may decide that the athlete must be referred for further treatment or observation. In that case the athlete must be safely transported to a medical facility. The sports physiotherapist communicates with other health care professionals and ensures that they are protected from further injury during transfer. They have to be careful to ensure privacy and confidentiality for the athlete.
The sports physical therapist is very involved in the athlete’s recovery from injury or illness. They use their therapeutic knowledge to determine the main problems for the athlete and work closely with other medical and sports professionals to help the athlete overcome these problems. This requires an understanding of the physical and psychological demands of the athlete’s goals. They design strategies to help the athlete return to an optimal level of function, while minimizing the risk of re-injury.
Sports physical therapists also play a role in enhancing performance. They supplement the skills of the athletic coach and trainer. In some situations their therapeutic knowledge and skills enable them to develop strategies to enhance and individual’s performance capacity. For example, sports physical therapists know techniques to improve the efficiency of movement.
Frequently, sports physical therapists act as advisors, helping people of all ages and abilities to live more actively. They can suggest appropriate activities and ways of safely increasing participation. They can advise people who aim to increase their activity for medial reasons, and those who are aware of their need to prevent a medical condition such as heart disease.
In all their interactions, sports physical therapists promote fair play and anti-doping practices, ensuring that athletes are aware of regulations and procedures. Sports physiotherapists keep their knowledge up-to-date in relation to regulations and banned substances.
The medical and health professions are developing rapidly, and it is very important that sports physiotherapists continually update their knowledge. They must be able to decide which new information is credible and useful to them in their practice. This ensures that athletes receive advice and interventions based on cutting-edge information. Sports physiotherapists discuss new information with their colleagues in different professions, and keep updating their skills, while mentoring other sports physical therapists as they develop.
Sports physical therapists may work in situations where they require management-related knowledge and skills, such as resource management, service organization, and legal issues. They contribute to the development of their profession by participating in research into new techniques for testing and monitoring, and novel interventions. They ensure that other professionals and athletes can learn about new knowledge and innovations by using different forms of communication. Sports physical therapists also ensure that policy-makers are aware of best practice when making decisions.