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What Does Preventative Physical Therapy Look Like?

by Brian Whittington, PT, DPT, CMTPTLeave a Comment

Most of us had our first experience with physical therapy after we sustained an injury or underwent surgery. It should be no surprise that we often think of physical therapy as something we do after an injury or post-surgery. But did you know that physical therapy is often used as a preventative tool? Preventative physical therapy may be more valuable than we realize, as the old adage tells us, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Let’s dissect what preventative physical therapy looks like.

When Could Preventative Physical Therapy Be Used?

Sometimes preventative physical therapy is performed before a sports season or after an extended period of inactivity. A 2020 study from the American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at the data from 44 elite European soccer teams over 15 years. It concluded that “For every ten additional preseason training sessions, the injury burden decreased on average by 21.8 layoff days per 1000 hours of exposure.”4 In other words, the more preseason exercise performed, the lower the injury rate was for a team in a season. In this instance, preseason preventative exercise was used effectively to reduce injury. You can also use preventative physical therapy if you are starting your sports season soon or have been inactive for an extended period. Preventative physical therapy can set you up for success.

Another time preventative physical therapy might be used is after an intense training period. A 2018 paper in Sports Medicine reviewed the data from 47 different studies regarding training intensity and concluded that there is an “existence of a relationship between training load and injury.”5 Meaning high-intensity training can increase the risk of injury. Implementing preventative physical therapy, as a de-loading period after high-intensity training, may be a means of preventing those injuries. If you are exiting a high-intensity or extended training period, preventative physical therapy might be right for you.

How Do I Know I Need Preventative Physical Therapy?

The most common method of identifying if you could benefit from preventative physical therapy is to undergo a formal screening process. Functional screening tools, such as the Y-balance Test or the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), allow the physical therapist to evaluate movement patterns, strength, flexibility, and balance to identify any potential deficits or asymmetries. Although one might not have pain or be injured at the moment, these screening tools may identify future risks of injury.1,2,3 If so, preventative physical therapy can be used to address these impairments.

What Does Preventative Therapy Consist of?

Preventative physical therapy will consist of exercises to address the weak muscles, impaired movements, or lack of flexibility and range of motion identified in your screening exam. Targeted exercises to increase neuromuscular control and hypertrophy, stretches to increase flexibility, and reduce muscle tension will be crafted to address your needs. Request a free assessment, either in-person or via telehealth, to see if preventative physical therapy is right for you.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Armstrong, Ross, and Matt Greig. “INJURY IDENTIFICATION: THE EFFICACY OF THE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN™ IN FEMALE AND MALE RUGBY UNION PLAYERS.” International journal of sports physical therapy vol. 13,4 (2018): 605-617.
2. Tao, Hanz et al. “Can a Modified Y-Balance Test Predict Running Overuse Injuries over the Course of a Division I Collegiate Cross-Country Season?” International journal of sports physical therapy vol. 16,6 1434-1441. 1 Dec. 2021, doi:10.26603/001c.29871
3. Scudamore, Eric M., et al. “Use of functional movement screen scores to predict dynamic balance in physically active men and women.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 33.7 (2019): 1848-1854.
4. Ekstrand, Jan, et al. “Are elite soccer teams’ preseason training sessions associated with fewer in-season injuries? A 15-year analysis from the union of European football associations (UEFA) elite club injury study.” The American journal of sports medicine 48.3 (2020): 723-729.
5. Eckard, T.G., Padua, D.A., Hearn, D.W. et al. The Relationship Between Training Load and Injury in Athletes: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 48, (2018): 1929–1961.

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About the Author:
Brian Whittington is a physical therapist and regional director for Athletico. Brian is particularly interested in treating knee and shoulder injuries and specializes in post-operative ACL reconstruction rehabilitation. Brian's treatment focus also includes the growing patient population dealing with chronic pain. His practice philosophy is not limited to injury recovery but includes education for injury prevention and general health and wellness. Brian's mission is simple, keeping people moving so they can live optimally healthy lives.

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