Sports physiotherapists are health practitioners who have been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of sports injuries. In Australia, qualified and fully registered physiotherapy practitioners who wish to acquire specialised professional skills in sports physiotherapy undergo a master's programme in the field. Such practitioners may then apply for the Australian Physiotherapy Association Sports title. Some sports physiotherapists undertake event coverage, which involves travelling with a team.
Within the Australian Physiotherapy Association, the Sports Group is one of the largest and it offers further professional development in sporting areas such as peripheral joint injuries and learn the peculiarities of an individual sport. This enables a practitioner specialise in a particular sport or in a specific aspect of sports physiotherapy such as rehabilitation.
Generally sports physiotherapists work with professional sports people, amateurs or individuals who engage in leisure sports. They help in reducing the risk of sports injuries by training sports persons how to stay within their individual fitness capability and how to warm up properly before a sporting event.
Common injuries treated by sports physiotherapists include ankle sprains and strains, anterior knee pain, plantar fasciitis, a condition caused by straining the ligament which supports the arch of the foot, achilles tendinopathy, caused by an injury to the tendon that joins the heel bone to the calf muscles and a number of others. They examine and diagnose these injuries and make plans for appropriate treatment programmes.
Many of the treatment plans involve the use of manual therapy. Depending on the injury sustained, that would include, but not limited to massage, manipulation and stretching. Manual therapy is a hands-on approach designed to remove movement restrictions and re-educate the body into proper movement.
Electrotherapy may also be employed. It utilises small but steady electrical stimulus to cause contractions in muscles that may otherwise have remained dormant. Functional electrical stimulation restores muscle strength after traumatic injury. Low-level laser therapy has also been used by sports physiotherapists to reduce pain and inflammation and to stimulate healing.
The use of ice is an effective way of reducing swelling immediately after soft tissue injuries involving inflammation. Application of cold packs to inflamed areas help in constricting blood vessels with significant reduction of the swelling. On the other hand, application of heat to injuries involving muscle spasm and tightness reduces pain and makes the tissue more mobile and pliable.
Post injury rehabilitation is a key component of the treatment plan. Specific exercises are hand-picked to strengthen targeted muscle groups to address muscular imbalances and enhance better movement. The patient's progress is carefully monitored during this phase as an accurate timescale of when the patient is able to return to sporting activities is important, especially for professional athletes.