I first heard about athletic therapy as a student. I had entered university with the intention of majoring in biology, until I took an Introduction to Kinesiology course, which immediately sparked my interest. I was dancing professionally at the time and was having trouble with a chronic ankle injury. At this point, I had never heard of athletic therapy until the professor of one of my classes introduced himself as one, Ben Trunzo. It was through him that I had my first experience with the profession as his patient. I immediately saw an improvement in my injury and my experience with athletic therapy completely changed my expectations of rehabilitation. The duration of the appointments were longer, the assessments were more thorough, the treatments were one on one, multiple modalities were used as well as significant hands on treatment and exercise prescription. The biggest difference that mattered the most to me was that he worked with me to get me to my goal, which is to perform until the end of the season. He did not tell me that I needed to stop, which was the response I had received countless times in the past. He understood why it was important to me and had a very structured game plan of how to make it happen. That is the athletic therapy difference. If you have a goal your therapist will do whatever they can to work with you to get you there. I felt supported, understood and confident and that experience is what made me want to become a certified athletic therapist.
Ever since I was a student, I have been asked this same question, “What is Athletic Therapy ?”. Either people have never heard of it, or they assume athletic therapists only work with athletes or they don't know the difference between an athletic therapist and a physiotherapist. I’ve been practicing athletic therapy for five years now and my answer to this question gets longer and longer due to the broad range of services and expertise that an AT can provide.
Athletic therapists specialize in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of all types of musculoskeletal issues. If you’ve injured a muscle, bone, or joint, or want to take the proactive
approach of injury prevention, an athletic therapist should be the first person you think of.
Foundations to athletic therapy include the following:
Prevention: Your athletic therapist provides education and recommendations on posture, movement mechanics, exercises, ergonomics, bracing and risks associated with participating in fitness, sport and activities of daily living with the goal of keeping you injury free.
Assessment: Athletic therapists are experts at evaluating the type and severity of Orthopedic injuries by conducting a thorough patient history, a postural assessment, a gait analysis and a complete musculoskeletal assessment that looks for abnormalities in your range of motion and strength to confirm the injury and to find the cause for your pain so that you can prevent it from happening again in the future.
Treatment and Rehabilitation: Your athletic therapist will recommend a personalized treatment plan. This could include therapeutic modalities, manual therapy techniques (massage, joint mobilizations, soft tissue release, cupping, acupuncture, Graston technique, PNF stretching), physical reconditioning by means of a home exercise program using specific exercises to correct your imbalances as well as supportive taping and bracing to speed healing.
Education: Athletic therapy views patient education as a crucial cornerstone to a healthy and rapid recovery. It is important that you understand your injury, the cause, and why you’re doing the exercises prescribed so that you can have an active role and confidence in your treatment plan.
The common misconception that athletic therapy is just for athletes is FALSE! Although the name can be misleading, athletic therapists treat everyone from kids with concussions to seniors recovering from a knee replacement. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional athlete, or a senior wanting to become more independent or someone who works at a desk and has chronic neck pain, an athletic therapist is still right for you. Most people who’ve heard of athletic therapy know us from our performance in the field setting, when we run out to an injured athlete’s aid. We have extensive training as first responders to ensure the best immediate care of all injuries as soon as they happen, which is critical to help decrease the severity of the injury and even save lives. All sporting events benefit from having an athletic therapist on site, to prepare the athletes prior to the event with dynamic warm ups, massage and supportive taping. ATs are beneficial during the event for immediate care and after the event for more hands on treatment and care. Aside from the popular field setting, athletic therapists work in a variety of roles and positions from insurance companies to rehabilitation clinics, private practice, and industrial settings.
I am fortunate to work in a facility that gives me the ability to use as many of my athletic therapy skills as possible, therefore my days have a lot of variety. I teach group fitness classes, lead small group training programs and personal training sessions. I create and present at workshops and lunch and learns, in the community on different health and wellness topics from nutrition to decreasing sedentary behaviour. I work with a variety of clientele ranging in age and ability in different chronic disease programs. I lead fitness assessments and stress tests, functional movement screens and ergonomic assessments.There is overlap in all of these services where I can use my knowledge of athletic therapy to benefit all of my clients. I have a strong focus on movement mechanics. I believe that if everyone has a better understanding of how their body works and how to move and train themselves properly, that countless injuries could be prevented. I would rather stop injuries from developing in the first place whenever I can. This passion is therefore always being implemented in all group training sessions, small group training sessions, personal training and athletic therapy sessions. If you’re going to take the time to exercise and improve yourself you should have the confidence to know you’re doing it right, to make most of your time and ensure your workouts are effective. If I have a client recovering from a heart attack in my cardiac rehabilitation class but he has nagging knee pain that is acting as a barrier to improving his cardiovascular health I have the knowledge and ability to remove that barrier to improve his overall health and to allow him to complete the program successfully.
I appreciate the extensive knowledge that athletic therapists have especially when focusing on
the return to play aspect of our rehabilitation. Return to play (or work, or hobby or life) is the final
step in the rehabilitation process that takes you a step further once you’re pain free. Athletic
therapists make your rehabilitation and exercise program as sport specific (or work specific, or
hobby specific etc) as possible so that when you do return to your activity you are stronger,
faster, more confident and overall better than you were before you got injured in the first place
so that it doesn't happen again. Your mental health is also considered. Injuries are traumatic,
especially ones that are acute (a sudden accident or incident compared to chronic injuries that
have a gradual onset and are usually more related to overuse). Slowly, we rebuild your
confidence so that you know you can truly perform to your best potential without your mind
getting in the way.
Athletic therapists look at the entire person. It’s never just your foot, or just your shoulder. It’s more often than not also your hip or your neck. Everything is connected in your body and works together therefore it needs to be assessed as a whole not as one body part. If you come into the clinic for foot pain, it could actually be due to weak glutes. If you come in for shoulder pain, it could be due to a muscle imbalance or improper innervation. Another helpful tip to note is that athletic therapy is often covered by third party insurance. Check with your insurance provider!
The best thing you could do is educate yourself on what athletic therapy is, go see one and then tell everyone you know about what you learned and your experience. I believe that athletic therapists should be everyone’s go to for musculoskeletal prevention, training, pain relief and education. I am passionate about our profession and believe that once people experience the profession for themselves that they will have the same eye opening experience that I did as a student and your expectations of what rehab can do for you will be blown out of the water.
There are a few websites that are worth exploring for more information:
1) The Canadian Athletic Therapy Association (CATA)