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A sports therapist is a person who does physical therapy work for sports teams or individuals who engage in sporting activities. People in this role might have jobs directly tied to a particular team, or they might have numerous clients, or both. Their jobs are usually related to both prevention of injury, and therapy after an injury. They also usually have the task of determining when athletes are ready to return to competition during the recovery process and helping those athletes return without re-aggravating any injuries.
To help athletes avoid injury, a sports therapist may watch for problems in physical mechanics. Athletes often push their bodies to extremes, and over time, this can have major consequences. Watching mechanics can be very important in some sports, like pitching in baseball, for example, because there is a great risk of repetitive stress injury. A sports therapist may also recommend the use of certain braces to protect muscle groups.
When athletes do suffer an injury, a sports therapist generally helps get them on the road to a decent recovery. This might involve recommending rest time and coordinating with physicians to determine the best treatment plans. It also often falls to the sports therapist to put the athlete through a physical rehab program, which may include specific exercises to strengthen damaged muscles or tendons and encourage healing.
Sometimes athletes are forced to play with a lot of pain. They may have injuries that are slow to heal fully but not serious enough to require rest. In some sports, especially those with a lot of physical contact, there is a culture of respect that revolves around playing through injuries. A sports therapist may be called on to help these athletes deal with their daily aches and pains by providing massage therapy and using other techniques to soothe sore muscles.
It’s often important for a sports therapist to have a certain amount of talent in dealing with people. For one thing, he has to deal on a personal level with injured athletes on a regular basis, and he may also have to deal with their coaches. All these people may have different motives besides just facilitating recovery from an injury. Some sports coaches may even expect sports therapists to help athletes get their confidence back after suffering an injury. This isn’t necessarily something the therapists are always trained for, but if they don’t have these skills to some extent, it could potentially be detrimental to their careers.
I worked as a sports physical therapist for a small college in Tennessee. I worked with athletes in all sports and was expected to be in both the training room and on the sidelines of every game.
Even at a small school like that we had a lot of sports injuries and some of them were pretty severe. I have a lot of training and experience so I was able to respond to stressful situations with a necessary level of calm, but if a less informed trainer had been working on some of these kids they could have suffered life long injuries. A trainer can cause harm too.
Luckily there is now a very reputable network of physical therapy schools and sports training certifications. The men and women occupying these roles really know what they are doing and they have saved a lot of young bodies from a lifetime of pain.
Sports therapy is more important than it has ever been before. There are more athletes playing at a higher level than there was in the past. Even small town high schools have carefully organized sports programs that often employ dedicated sports therapists.
On the professional level the need for sports therapists is huge because players often get hurt and they are expected to return quickly. These can be serious injuries that significantly affect a persons play. It takes more than just saying "suck it up, be tough." You need trainers and therapists who really know what they are doing to accelerate the body's natural healing processes.
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