What is Sports Physical Therapy?

By October 25, 2021November 27th, 2023No Comments

Woman with orthopedic problem exercising with ball while physiotherapist supporting her

What Is Sports Physical Therapy?

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, more than 3.5 million teens and children will experience a sports-related injury each year. Sports-related injuries can strike at any time and when they do, they can be devastating from both a physical and mental standpoint. Sprains and strains are among the most common sports-related injuries, especially in children and teens, and they often result in a referral to a sports physical therapist like those at RPT. A sports physical therapist doesn’t just provide injury rehabilitation though; they are trained to help with injury prevention and overall athletic conditioning. Whether you’re a parent of an injured athlete or you’re working toward a fitness goal and are interested in injury prevention, there are a variety of ways sports-related physical therapy can help. Choosing a sports physical therapist is no different than selecting a physician, in that, you’ll need to understand what sports physical therapists do and what type of treatment you can expect before making your selection.

Sports Medicine vs. Sports Physical Therapy

Sports physical therapy falls under the broad umbrella of sports medicine. According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, sports medicine includes various medical professionals who are focused on diagnosis, injury prevention, and treatment among young athletes and people of all ages and abilities. A sports medicine doctor or sports medicine physician has traditional medical training, can perform surgeries, and write prescriptions. sports physical therapy is primarily focused on injured athletes, developing a unique plan designed to help them rehabilitate and recover more quickly and safely. Sports physical therapists look to accomplish the following goals for each patient:

  • Reduce recovery time from training workouts
  • Reduce recovery time from injuries
  • Increase strength
  • Increase agility
  • Improve flexibility
  • Improve balance
  • Decrease pain

Sports physical therapists are just one piece of the sports medicine puzzle. Here are a few other examples of different sports medicine professionals and their areas of expertise.

A Physician or Sports Medicine Specialist

Physicians or sports medicine specialists are often board certified in pediatrics or family medicine with additional training in sports medicine.

Orthopedic Surgeon

Orthopedic surgeons are also board-certified physicians, trained to treat and diagnose musculoskeletal injuries. 

Certified Athletic Trainer

Certified athletic trainers are involved in injury prevention through strength and conditioning programs and active competition. 


A nutritionist helps an athlete shape their diet to meet the needs of their fitness goals.

Sports Psychologist 

A sports psychologist helps athletes reach their optimum performance by supporting their mental health. Depending on the needs of the patient, an athlete may see one or several sports medicine professionals at different points in their injury prevention or rehabilitation journey. 

What Do Sports Physical Therapists Do?

Sports physical therapist doing rehabilitation exercise for kneeAccording to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, approximately 90% of all sports-related injuries are non-surgical. Since many patients make their first visit to a sports physical therapist after they have become injured, most treatment is focused on rehabilitation. A sports physical therapist can also provide treatment to patients who don’t have an injury. Sports physical therapy can be an excellent way for athletes to prepare for an upcoming sports season, with the goal of preventing an injury before it happens. A sports physical therapist provides treatment in three phases:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Assessment
  3. Implementation

During an evaluation, a sports physical therapist will first ask questions specific to your athletic goals or an injury. If you have an injury, a sports physical therapist will want to know how it happened, where the pain is occurring, and how long it has been present. Next, a sports physical therapist will use a series of techniques to look for problems associated with balance, strength, range of motion, or any additional injury-specific issues like swelling or muscle loss. Once the evaluation and assessment are complete, a sports physical therapist will work with an athlete to determine both short- and long-term goals associated with getting back to play at full recovery without pain and avoiding injury in the future. These goals will all inform a unique plan that is custom to the needs of the athlete and includes therapeutic treatments, interventions, and exercises designed to meet the goals established in the assessment. Sports physical therapists are experts in creating plans that combine the correct types of procedural interventions and treatments to decrease pain and improve both ranges of motion and strength. Some of these treatments might include massage, hydrotherapy, electrical stimulation, or weight training. Once an athlete has successfully completed treatment, a sports physical therapist will also provide instructions and training to ensure the athlete continues to perform at a high level without further risk of re-injury. 

Schedule a Consultation with Registered Physical Therapists in Utah

If you’re dealing with an injury that’s keeping you from the activity you love, or if you’re looking for ways to prevent injury and maximize performance, schedule an appointment with Registered Physical Therapists in Utah for a personalized sports physical therapy consultation. Our registered sports physical therapists are trained to help you return to the sport you love quicker and stronger. We’ll show you why sports medicine and sports physical therapy are invaluable tools for athletes of all ages. Contact us to schedule your sports physical therapy consultation today.