If you lead an active lifestyle, chances are you’ve dealt (or will deal) with pain and injury at some point. They’re not necessarily a given, but unfortunately, they’re pretty common.
When you truly enjoy your workouts or training, the last thing you want is to end up sidelined or have to push through pain. Luckily, physical therapists can help. These pros know everything about every ache and injury in the book, and—more importantly—how to bounce back from them.
If you find yourself in any of the following situations, consider it time for a PT visit.
1. You’re recovering from An acute injury
One thing that physical therapists really shine at is helping people recover from acute injuries. So if you’re nursing a sprained ankle, torn ligament, or fractured bone, consider visiting a PT—especially if your injury is keeping you from your sport or exercise of choice.
Since your body goes through different phases of healing, your recovery time will vary depending on the type of injury you’ve sustained. While physical therapists can’t wave a magic wand and cut down those recovery times, they can help you stay focused on the end goal.
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“You can’t necessarily speed up the healing process, but what a physical therapist can do is help normalize everything you’re going through and keep the momentum going through each [healing] phase,” says Gene Shirokobrod, D.P.T., co-founder and CEO of RECHARGE fitness in Maryland. You won’t have to wonder if you’re on the right track because your PT will be keeping tabs on your progress.
Once you can start putting weight on the injured spot, your physical therapist can offer a safe-yet-effective timeline for returning to your sport or exercise of choice. They may also provide you with strength and mobility exercises to restore function to the injured area and suggest ways to incorporate safe movement into your daily routine.
2. You feel a nagging pain or discomfort
Aside from acute injuries, one of the most common reasons people visit a physical therapist is to diagnose and resolve chronic pain, according to Shirokobrod. So if you have nagging discomfort that’s seriously messing with your active lifestyle, you’re in luck: Physical therapists are master sleuths. In fact, they’re trained to identify movement problems that may be causing your pain, Shirokobrod says.
When you get started, your PT will ask you a series of questions to begin narrowing down the list of potential issues. They’ll want to know where the pain crops up, what movements or activities make it better or worse, when you first noticed the pain, if you exercise or play sports, and whether you’ve had a history of injuries. Your PT will also want to know your end goal. To run free of knee pain? Deadlift without a low-back twinge? Simply walk up and down stairs without wincing?
Once your PT has a better idea of what the problem could be, they’ll likely put you through a series of movement assessments to gauge where your form is breaking down. This may clue you in on strength imbalances, mobility issues, or old injuries that are at the root of your pain.
After that, the real work begins. Your PT will take the information they gathered and create a program to get you back to pain-free movement. Ideally, the PT will involve you in this process. Shirokobrod always asks his patients for input so they become active participants in the process, which also helps the program feel doable. And we all know that the people who see the best results are the ones who stick with their program.
3. You’re starting a new exercise routine
There’s no rule that you have to be injured or in pain to see a physical therapist. In fact, seeing a PT today can be a great way to avoid pain and injury tomorrow—especially if you’re starting a new exercise routine or training plan.
For example, a first-time marathoner would benefit from visiting a physical therapist during their training. “A physical therapist is very good at saying, ‘Okay, here’s where your body is, and what you need to do to make sure your body can handle that load,’” Shirokobrod says.
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Your PT may watch you run to look out for possible form issues and test your strength and mobility to pinpoint potential weaknesses that could lead to injury as you get deeper into your training. From there, they’ll give you some exercises to build into your running program that will hopefully prevent pain or injuries from popping up.
It’s a good idea to check in with your PT occasionally to troubleshoot any issues or update your program. How often you go will depend on your goals, though, so ask your PT for guidance there.