Nearly every athlete or active person will at some point need physical therapy (PT), which is the rehabilitation of an injury. Yet, not everyone seeks PT, instead convincing themselves that they can simply “tough it out.”
That’s a bad idea. Injuries need attention. It doesn’t have to be a major injury, such as a broken bone. Even something as common as a slightly sprained ankle requires therapy, yet gyms are full of limping people trying to ignore the pain every time they take a step.
For our purposes, let’s follow a sprained ankle without PT. Few folks realize that the ankle is one of the most complex joints in the human body. It has numerous bones, ligaments and tendons.
You first realize something is wrong with your ankle after an activity. You felt a sharp pain when it happened, but the pain didn’t go away. Instead, your ankle became swollen and painful when touched. You iced it and spent a day or so resting it as much as possible. Then you returned to your active life.
The ankle grew more painful as you kept walking and playing your sport, and it hurt every time you put weight on it. You naturally began to favor the injured ankle to prevent pain, transferring more work to the healthy ankle. This caused an imbalance that, whether you realized it or not, affected your entire active and athletic performance.
A physical therapist would have identified the imbalance in the way you walked and given you exercises and a program to follow that would help prevent favoring of the sore ankle. The therapist would schedule more visits to keep track of how you were recovering, analyzing not only the ankle, but the distribution of your weight. Some therapists have a pressure plate that measures the weight of each foot placement, showing whether you are doing less work on one side of the body.
Without this professional analysis and correction, you might continue letting one side of your body do more work than the other side. The results of such a change will eventually affect not only your walk, but all activities. Your athletic performance will subtly decline over time, and you will always wonder why.
This pattern is common with any injury, whether it’s a broken bone or a pulled muscle. Having PT, where you are observed and analyzed in your movement, is usually the solution to lingering effects of even a mild injury; not to mention a serious one.
And remember: If you do get PT after a problem, never second-guess the therapist. If he or she tells you to ice it twice a day, do it. If there is a rehab program assigned for “homework,” follow it as scheduled.