General, Health and Fitness, Physical Therapy, Sport Medicine

Physical Therapy vs. Sports Medicine: Which is right for you?

People of all ages love to participate in sports, and the Tampa Bay area is a great place to stay active. However, there is always a risk of injury when you take part in physical activity. If you are injured in a sport in Tampa, Saint Petersburg or Sarasota, the first doctor who looks at your injury may recommend that you follow up at a sports medicine practice or a physical therapy clinic. Both of these types of medical practices can help you recover. It is important to understand the difference between them so that you have a sense of what you can expect. 

Sports Medicine: A Broad Discipline

physical therapist working with patient doing yoga at fitness facility in st petersburg, florida

The staff at this type of practice is made up of people who are passionate about many different areas of sports. The doctors in the practice are licensed MDs who started their careers in a field like family medicine, internal medicine or emergency medicine. They then received additional training so that they could address the common injuries of the sporting world. Within the realm of sports medicine, you will find some doctors who have a background in orthopedic surgery. They are prepared to help you if an injury requires a more invasive repair. This type of practice is where you would go for treating injuries such as ACL tears and evaluating a patient’s post-concussion recovery. They will also help with various joint injuries.

You may also find a sports medicine practice with non-operative orthopedic doctors who focus on using injections or non-invasive therapies. Injections of these types may range from corticosteroids, platelet rich plasma, or stem cell injections. These tools are to either relief the body of pain or to help the affected joints or tissues heal naturally before turning to surgery.

At a sports medicine practice, regardless if it’s an operative or non-operative practice, the doctors will evaluate you in-office. Then, based on your examination and history of your injury, will often order imaging like an X-ray or MRI image. Sometimes the doctor will even view the injured area under ultrasound during our office visit. 

At larger practices, you will find staff members who will help with other aspects of sports performance. This may include movement specialists, nutritional specialists and or physical therapists. Certified athletic trainers, physical therapy assistants, or other qualified sports trainers can evaluate your performance and give you training sessions and exercise routines to help improve your form and ability. 

Nutritionists will examine your diet and help you take in the fuel you need to perform your best in the Tampa Bay heat. They know that a long-distance runner has different nutritional needs than a football player. These professionals are especially helpful for younger athletes who have extensive nutritional needs as they grow. They are also helpful in a masters-level athlete’s needs nutritionally, and even can support nutritional changes necessary to best support the healing process and overall performance.

Finally, it is normal to find experts such as a physical therapist or a chiropractor on the staff. These professionals have a primary focus on helping you recover from injury and return to full power and mobility. Usually, physical therapists and chiropractors blend their approach with the following: a detailed movement assessment to identify the root cause of the issue, follow3d by hands on treatment of the affected tissue or joint, and customized corrective exercise program to help restore more natural function to the problematic regions. These clinicians are heavily focused on the root cause of the issue and their treatments are focused on correcting that.

Physical Therapy: Focused on Recovery

physical therapist working with patient using yellow resistance band

Physical Therapy (PT) is a piece of sports-oriented medicine, but it also a discipline of its own. Professional therapists go through an intense program of study. When they are done, they can handle both sports-related therapies and general recovery needs. Physical therapists use different stretches and exercises to restore range of motion and strength to their patients. Many people in Sarasota and Saint Petersburg will work with a physical therapist as they recover from different types of surgery. The goal is to maintain mobility during and after the healing process.

Some PT practices include chiropractic services. A chiropractor is a medical professional who has been trained to relieve pain and improve function by focusing on the alignment of a patient’s spine. By manually adjusting the vertebrae in the neck and spine, these practitioners help patients move and feel better. 

Both physical therapists and chiropractors work with a wide variety of patients. If you go to a PT clinic, you will encounter people who are there for a range of needs. Therapy and chiropractic services can help these patients deal with post-surgical recovery and aging issues as well as sports-related injuries.

However, there are some PT clinics that specialize in athletic performance. Like medical clinics that focus on sports, they may have athletic trainers on staff who can help athletes go beyond recovery to move toward improved athletic performance. These practices often have training rooms with specialized athletic equipment. Athletes may go there for personal or group training sessions.


Which practice is right for you?

If your doctor sends you to a specialist for a sports injury, the type and extent of the injury will determine the practice you should see. If your issue involves severe damage to a joint or tissue, like severe arthritis, ACL tear, or a muscle tendon rupture, you may require a surgical procedure. In this case, a sports medicine clinic will have the broad range of services you need. If the issue is healing a bio-mechanical issue, an overuse injury and/or sprain strains, working with a physical therapist is the right solution.

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