Physical Therapists: The Experts of Movement
At some point in every runner’s life comes a time where pain or injury strikes. It is hard to believe that there are avid runners out there that have never experienced an overuse injury, accidental injury, or some sort of strain or soreness in their running years. The constant pounding for miles and miles creates stress on the joints and muscles, which puts runners at a higher risk of injury than their non-running counterparts. The good thing is for most of the everyday aches and pain runners go through, as well as many muscular and joint-related injuries, a physical therapist can come to the rescue.
Not only can physical therapists help with hands-on techniques to relieve pain and improve joint and muscle mobility, but they are well-educated in exercise rehabilitation for the prevention of issues in the future. You can definitely learn helpful tips from these professionals on how to keep your body healthy and be a stronger runner. There are many physical therapists who specialize in orthopedic problems as well as running-related injuries. This may come in handy for those who have experienced issues with injuries resulting from poor running mechanics or specific weaknesses in certain muscle groups.
Soft tissue injuries usually require some form of hands-on therapy to relieve stiffness in joints, tightness in muscles, or scar tissue development from surgery or old injuries. Many people think that physical therapy is just about massage and stretching, but it is the conjunction of these techniques with exercises that relieve pain and dysfunction for the long term. If a therapist solely uses a joint mobilization technique to increase the range of motion of a shoulder, for example, the stiffness will just return if no exercises are used to strengthen the joint to remain in that loosened position.
The massage used in physical therapy is not your typical massage you get at the spa. Soft tissue mobilization is the proper term and is used specifically for loosening tight muscles and tendons, especially at their connections to the bones, as well as for flushing out toxins and inflammation to relieve pain and improve movement. It is not typical for a physical therapist to be spending more than 10 or 15 minutes “massaging” one area. This technique is frequently used as part of a warm-up for exercises and stretching.
You have probably heard of ART before, which is a common form of therapy used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. This form of massage is where deep pressure is applied to an area of tightness or pain while instructing the patient to actively move as if stretching the area. This technique, by no means, feels good as most massage does. The patient will usually feel an uncomfortable stretching sensation. ART helps to break up any adhesions and scar tissue that is causing limitations in mobility.
This form of soft tissue mobilization uses an instrumental tool to produce microtrauma to an area that already has scar tissue and adhesions present. It may not make sense to cause further injury to an area, but it will actually restart the healing process by increasing blood flow and supply the nutrients needed to properly heal the area. Studies have shown that many common running-related injuries respond well to the Graston method such as Achilles tendonitis, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and hip flexor strains.
Similar to acupuncture, this technique has more recently been used by physical therapists to address trigger points in the body. Trigger points are usually sensitive to the touch and may sometimes produce pain in other areas of the body when touched. Dry needling does not use any form of medication along with the injection and can be performed superficially or deep in the affected tissue. The idea is that this needle injection helps release the tension in the trigger point to improve pain and relax the nerves that are transmitting the pain impulses to the muscles. Therapists can actually feel the extent of tightness in muscles, which is invisible to other diagnostic tools such as MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays.
The treatment approach of exercise is the most important part of physical therapy as it is what will bring long-term results. Manual therapy and modalities, including hot and cold pack treatment, will usually only provide temporary pain relief and joint mobility. Without the exercise portion of physical therapy, your body will just return to its original state of joint limitation and muscle tension once you resume your regular activities. Physical therapists are the experts in exercise for flexibility and strengthening, as well as the safe transition back into your sport. Unlike personal trainers, physical therapists are highly trained in injury prevention and can guide patients with a healthy approach to returning to their activities.
If you have been injured or undergone a surgery, physical therapy can bring you back to life. Runners are ideal candidates for physical therapy on a general basis for injury prevention and performance improvement. Physical therapists are trained to correct poor posture and running mechanics, as well as strengthen specific weaknesses that lead to overuse and accidental injuries. It is a good idea for every runner to get familiar with nearby physical therapists so that they know where to go when an injury strikes or if they need some guidance on proper cross-training to include in their training programs.