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Sports Physiotherapy Explained

Olympic Runner and Barefoot Physio, Caitlin Sargent
Olympic Runner and Barefoot Physio, Caitlin Sargent (left)

Many people ask me why we differentiate between the terms ‘physiotherapy’ and ‘sports physiotherapy’.  And fair enough, as the term sports physio isn’t widely understood – in fact, physio in general isn’t widely understood. But there’s a difference, which to us and our clients is vital.

Most people think of physio as a massage, followed by a bunch of home exercises for rehabilitation. So on that basis, sports physio would simply be the same but for people who play sport, right? Not at Barefoot Physiotherapy, and I’ll explain why.

Let’s say you’ve presented to your GP with one of the usual suspects like neck, shoulder, back or knee injury. An attentive GP will likely spend a few minutes with you looking at your range of motion and asking about the circumstances of the pain you’re experiencing, before giving you a referral for some physiotherapy.

Now this is where your journey can make a decisive turn. If you’ve been sent to a regular physiotherapist for rehabilitation, you’ll probably notice the treatment in your session will go straight to the site of the pain. It seems very cause and effect – you have a knee injury, so let’s get to work on that joint.

But this approach misses the key fact that often the site of pain is not in the same place as the cause. Still experiencing pain after a few visits? It’s a safe bet you’ve been treating the symptom and not the cause.

If you want to treat the cause of your problem and improve your performance, you need to see a sports physio.


So What Makes Sports Physio Better for Active People?

Volleyball Player and Barefooter, Maggie-Laurie Watts

Volleyball Player and Barefooter, Maggie-Laurie Watts

When you see a sports physio at Barefoot Physiotherapy, you should expect a very different experience than what you’ve had at most other standard physio practices.

The difference between physio and sports physio is that the latter has a more specific understanding of what’s required by the body to be able perform at optimal levels. Improving your performance requires a deeper understanding of your body as a working system, and it’s this understanding that moves us way beyond simply reducing pain and into the realms of holistic treatment and long term results.

We start by defining your goals and then move on to understanding your pain or limitation, treating the cause (or causes, as there’s often more than one) and crucially staying with you on the journey to ensure lasting benefits.

We might even determine at an early stage that your shoulder injury, for example, needs investigation from another health professional before we can begin treatment. Or we might pick up in our early assessment that nerve irritation is causing muscle weakness and affecting your technique, which undetected would make a strength training program a very ineffective treatment.

Whatever the cause of your problem, our systematic and unique approach provides proven and lasting rehabilitation and improved sports performance.

And what’s even better is that we stay with you on the whole journey. There’s no ‘set-and-forget’ home exercises in our clinic, we’re as accountable for the results of your treatment plan as you are.


The Barefoot Approach

So what exactly is this systematic approach I’ve been talking about? You can read the full details here, but in a nutshell it’s a defined process that ensures we:

1. Understand your goals
2. Identify the root cause of your problem
3. Create an effective rehabilitation or training plan
4. Teach you how to maintain your performance gains and avoid re-injury
5. Communicate with other professionals involved in your performance or treatment

If you’re new to this approach, you might find it initially confronting – “I’ve got a back injury, so why are they wasting time assessing my whole body?”. Again, this comes back to finding the true cause of your pain or performance limitation, and the best way to do this is to look in the places that seem the least obvious.

Only by looking at the full picture of you and your body as an interconnected system can we be confident that we’ve identified the root cause. Many things, like sleep position and posture at work can cause accumulative strain, and treating the symptom without identifying these issues is only a bandaid solution.

Only an experienced sports physio has the skills to cut through the clutter and give you lasting solutions to your pain or performance issues.


Who Should See a Sports Physio?

Rock Climber and Barefoot Physio, Kirsten Wilkes

Rock Climber and Barefoot Physio, Kirsten Wilkes

First of all, you don’t have to be a professional athlete to see a sports physio. In fact, most of our clients don’t fit that description at all (though we do treat some of the best in the business!).

Our clients range from people who play sport socially, work out alone, weekend warriors and even professionals who need their body to function well as part of their physically active day job.

Naturally, most of our clients do love sport and achieve amazing results through the way we treat their sport injury or help them to improve performance. Non-professional athletes can often think they don’t need professional advice, but small gains at this level (especially when everyone else is thinking the same thing) can lead to huge performance benefits.

And we all want to win, right?


Do You Need a Sports Injury to See Us?

Power Lifter and Barefooter, Colin Webb

Power Lifter and Barefooter, Colin Webb

No, you don’t need to have a sports injury to see us. While we’re absolutely the best place to be if you do suffer an injury, we’re also highly skilled in helping you identify and correct any issues that are stopping you from reaching the next level of your performance.

The reasons for coming to see us don’t have to be injury related, but they should almost always be performance related – something that’s stopping you from being the best you can be or reaching the goals you’re aiming for.

You might present, for example, with a neck injury which is slowing your performance as a recreational rower. We’ll follow our systematic treatment approach and may find that what you thought was a neck injury is actually muscle strain caused by the flexibility in your shoulders. In this instance, it can be either the ‘injury’ or your performance deficit that led you to our door.


So a sports injury might be the reason you come to see us but the effectiveness of the treatment plan in correcting the underlying cause will likely be so effective that once you’re rehabilitated, your improved strength, flexibility and technique will lead to huge performance improvement.

Come and see us for lasting relief from pain and improved performance. You can book online or call anytime to learn more.