Physical therapists play important role on sports medicine team

physical therapy sports rehabWith several fall and winter athletes out with injuries and in various stages of rehabilitation, I want to share the important role physical therapists play on the sports medicine team.

Below, I offer 3 main principles of a physical therapist’s job in rehabilitation programs.

Last week, I had the chance to speak with WAKR hosts Jasen Sokol and Aaron Coleman about this topic. One of the PT’s main responsibilities is to keep an athlete motivated and working hard so they can get back out there as soon as possible.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.


JASEN SOKOL: Joining us right now is Dr. Joe Congeni (Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital). He joins us every week around this time.

Dr. Congeni, a lot of athletes are rehabbing some injuries right now. Of course, a lot of the play-off teams even in football have some guys still in rehab. Walk us through the process of how these guys rehab these injuries.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, I’d love to. Let me first of all, say, gosh, what a privilege it is today to be with the hardworking people at WAKR.

JASEN SOKOL: [laughter]

DR. CONGENI: The dirty hands people that are here on a tough day, like I am down in my office. You know, the worker bees, right?.

I want to say Jasen and Aaron, you guys did such a good job this year on the postgame show for the high school sports. Shining a good light on our high school athletes is such a great thing to do. You know what a big deal it is in northeast Ohio, and what a good job you did with all the athletes. So, keep up the good work moving into winter.

And, you’re right, we have a lot of fall athletes that are rehabilitating injuries they got in the fall and we have some winter athletes that are trying to get back on the court. I had just a few things [to say] about this.

You know, the rehab people — the PTs (physical therapists) in sports medicine — they’re really an important part of the team. They are different from the trainers.

The trainers are on the field making the diagnosis when somebody’s hurt that night.

The physical therapists are the ones [when] somebody tears their ACL, or somebody has surgery on their ankle, or somebody has a really bad injury and they’re out for 6 weeks or something rehabilitating, those are the people that are going to take care of them.

You guys know already from being around, it’s hard for an athlete in an injured role. You feel like you’re not really part of the team and there are some psychological aspects of it that really affect athletes.

The big thing from a therapist’s — and a sports medicine doc’s — standpoint, we have to really keep those kids motivated because it can make a huge difference between being out for a couple of weeks and being out for a couple of months if they’re not working hard.

So, there are a couple of principles:

  • No. 1: RPTs (registered physical therapists) and sport PTs treat athletes like an adult. They make them take responsibility for doing a lot of things on their own. They’re not telling parents to stay on a kid.

This is up to the athlete. If you want to get better, here’s what your job is, here’s what you have to do in the next few weeks. Treat ‘em as an adult.

  • No. 2: They want the professionals — the PTs and the docs — to take the responsibility, take the lead. They’ll tell you what you have to do to get back on the field.

They don’t want to necessarily put it, like I said, in the parents’ hands of having to be nagging kids all the time, or going in with the coach and saying, “Hey, you know, this is what the doc said or what the PT said.” It’s up to the professionals to do that job.

  • And, the third part is the PTs in sports medicine are really good about giving objective goals.

Like if somebody has a bad ankle injury, you show them, man, you can’t jump or hop at all and in 3 weeks, I need you to be hopping. Or, you don’t have any core strength. We’ll show them how to do a front plank. And we say, “You have to be able to do a front plank for 60 seconds to be able to get back.”

So, we give them definite objective goals. We call that the full-court press when we really are pushing kids hard to get their maximum potential, to get them back on the field as soon as they can.

That’s the very, very important role of sports PTs in keeping athletes psychologically tuned in when they are in that injured role.

AARON COLEMAN: With Dr. Joe Congeni here on 1590 WAKR.

Dr. Congeni, I can definitely relate to this. As a young athlete, I tore my ACL. I had some other knee issues, as well. I think it was a good point you brought up that the PTs and the doctors and everything put the onus on the kids.

They say, “Hey, this is up to you. You want to get out there, you want to get back on the playing field or the court or whatever it is, then you go out there and do it.” I think that’s a really big part of what you guys do.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, Aaron, you remember what it was like in that injured role. You’re standing on the sidelines; you’re like in no man’s land; you’re kinda part of the team, but you’re not exactly part of the team.

So, that’s the role of the medical team with high school kids to keep ‘em engaged, keep ‘em working hard, keep their spirits up. Because if they’re not working hard, it will take them much longer to get back, or they get back and they are not fully rehabilitated.

So, you know what that role’s like, but a lot of athletes don’t. Until they’re injured, it’s the first time they go through it. And, we expect the medical team to help ‘em through that period.

JASEN SOKOL: Well, Dr. Congeni, thank you so much for the kind words about the football programming. It’s always our pleasure to highlight some of the great student athletes around our area. Thank you for joining us, and have a great Thanksgiving.

DR. CONGENI: Have a great Thanksgiving. I want to tell you guys for all the hard work you’re doing, enjoy that time off tomorrow with family and have a great Thanksgiving. And to everybody out there, have a great holiday. Thanks.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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