How to find a great physical therapist that will actually listen to you
When an athlete gets injured during training or competition, typically an option is to seek a primary care provider such as a general family physician. Primary care providers are a fantastic resource, however, they may not be the optimal provider for an athlete to visit after sports or orthopedic injury. A physical therapist, who is trained in an athlete’s particular sport may be the best bet for determining the best course of action post-injury or painful experience. Physical therapists possess a doctorate-level education in diagnosing, treating, and ruling out possible neuromusculoskeletal injuries such as tears, fractures, sprains, and strains. They can present you with the best course of action to take after an injury which could include starting a specific exercise program, starting an exercise program while being referred to another specialized provider (such as an orthopedist, neurologist, or nutritionist), or in cases of serious injury, an immediate referral may be a need for more invasive diagnostic procedures. However, for most scenarios, invasive diagnostic procedures such as x-rays and MRIs are not necessary and may actually do the athlete more of a disservice due to the poor correlations of imaging and the pain our athletes’ experience.
One of the biggest fears athletes face when visiting a provider is being told they can’t perform or they need to take several weeks off training to heal. While this may be true for some serious issues, more often than not there are more progressive strategies to handle sports injuries rather than the out-dated, traditional advice of “just rest and take these pills”. We live in a fast-paced, “just fix it” culture that puts more value on short term gratification, quick fixes, invasive surgeries, and magic pills over-focused, consistent work to accomplish a long term goal.
Our healthcare landscape may be one that values pills, injections, and surgeries over-exercise, nutrition, and sleep, however, we do have a progressive wave of athletes now asking for more. We now have CrossFitters, weightlifters, powerlifters, gymnasts, and dancers all pushing for more specialized rehabilitation care as opposed to simply resting it or considering surgery.
During a podcast recording with my partner, Laura, who is a dance professional she shares a story of experiencing a common issue in healthcare: not being heard. Listen to the Episode of "Demystifying Wellness" here! She describes a case where she visited a sports physician to assess an ankle injury she’d been battling during a string of performances. The provider simply felt her ankle, stated the tissues seemed to be all healed (she was walking fine - so I guess that’s cool), and told her she’s good to go! Laura, being a dance performer, felt there had to be more care needed than simply an “ok” from a provider who only worked with her for 10 min. This provider hugely neglected to consider the many factors of Laura’s injury that were lingering on even though technically her biological tissues were healed and she could walk into his office. There was no consideration for her ability to perform her sport, there were no follow up questions regarding her confidence level in returning to performances, and this sports physician rejected her request for physical therapy.
This is a classic and unfortunately common case of a healthcare provider stuck in a traditional, out-dated mindset. Some may refer to this provider’s style of practice as practicing within the biomedical model of healthcare. The biomedical model focuses purely on biological factors and tends to exclude other factors that may influence an athlete’s pain or recovery. In comparison, the biopsychosocial model of healthcare which is gaining more popularity in the US is an interdisciplinary model taking into account the interconnection between biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors.
When working with a physical therapist, physician, or coach, you may sense that they may lean toward one model of the other. Generally speaking, a provider or coach that practices more within the biopsychosocial framework will possess better listening skills as they are trained to focus on you (the athlete) and will possess interview skills that allow you to share your story. When working with a provider that has these skills, you will be able to learn how all these biological, psychological, emotional, social, and environmental factors play a role in your experience along your rehabilitation journey.
As a physical therapist and coach that uses the biopsychosocial model as a framework to communicate with my athletes, I love its utility to allow me to better connect with my athletes. It ensures that everyone I work with feels heard, respected, and confident with their strategy to reach their goals after our first session. So much of overcoming an injury or dealing with nagging pain is a mental game, if you do not have a therapist or coach you can trust to instill confidence in your plan, you are missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle! Use this link to schedule a Free Consultation with an expert Austin based CrossFit Physical Therapist to discuss how we can help you reach your goals!
In closing, you as an athlete have a right to feel heard and supported by your healthcare provider. You are more than just a diagnosis, an x-ray snapshot, or a tissue healing timeline. You have unique, specific goals that may require an individualized plan to obtain. If you’re working with someone that brushes off your comments, doesn’t dive into your specific goals or hobbies, it may be time to find someone who will. Hopefully, this post leaves you feeling empowered to take control of your journey. There are so many great providers and coaches out there that love.
If you’d like to nerd out more about the differences of the biomedical vs biopsychosocial models of healthcare, leave me a message or check out this awesome article.
Farre A, Rapley T. The New Old (and Old New) Medical Model: Four Decades Navigating the Biomedical and Psychosocial Understandings of Health and Illness. Healthcare (Basel). 2017;5(4):88. Published 2017 Nov 18. doi:10.3390/healthcare5040088