When it comes to pain and possible injury, athletes can be a determined lot, says Tacoma physical therapist Chad McCann. 

“They will work through pain, injuries, all kinds of limitations to participate,” said McCann, doctor of physical therapy with 3Dimensional Physical Therapy & Sports Conditioning in Tacoma. “And when they finally admit to a problem, the first question they often ask is, ‘When can I get back on the field? Or the track or the trail or the court?’”  

Monitoring and managing this determination is one reason it can be important for athletes to consider working with a sports specialist when training or rehabbing an injury, according to McCann. 

A sports specialist is a physical therapist who has completed advanced professional education and training that allows him or her to address the goal of improving sport performance. Such certifications indicate the physical therapist is an expert in designing and implementing strength and conditioning programs specifically for athletes. Sports specialists also work with athletes on injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, and nutrition. 

Sports specialists often don the credentials CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) and/or SCS (Sports Clinical Specialist), accreditations of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists. 

“Specializing in sports injuries means understanding the mindset of an athlete – understanding their motivations and their intense drive,” he said. “They love to participate and compete. Anything that sidelines them is something to overcome as soon as possible.” 

According to McCann, some of the best sports specialists are or have been competitive athletes themselves. This experience helps them relate to other athletes and their love of competing, and that to “stop” is not generally an option unless there is a real safety concern. 

As a result, a sports-certified therapist looks at a treatment plan from the perspective of an athlete. What can the athlete do to recover from an injury while always keeping in mind performance and competition?  

It takes some skill and experience to manage an athlete’s expectations, especially when it comes to recovery and rehabilitation, McCann says. For example, a lot of athletes assume that pain is an accepted part of competitive performance, and they may push past the level of pain that is safe. A sports specialist understands this and can assign, monitor and manage treatment- and performance-based activities accordingly. 

He or she is also going to concentrate on identifying the causes of injury, pain or competitive limitations. Is it a mechanical or a strength issue? What is the best way to intervene so there’s not a reoccurrence of the condition when he or she returns to the sport?   

For example, a baseball player with acute tendonitis may have to stop throwing for a while to ice and rest the arm, but he or she can continue with a conditioning plan to maintain the physical strength and stamina he or she needs to return to the field.  

“It is key for a medical team to understand that a competitive athlete will want an activity-based treatment plan,” McCann said. “He or she will want to be engaged – not only to heal, but also be a better athlete afterwards.” 

Each member of the physical therapy team at 3Dimensional Physical Therapy & Sports Conditioning is a sports specialist, McCann says. This helps ensure the team is able to provide individualized training and rehab services for those looking to reach their competitive peaks while staying injury free. Contact 3Dimensional Physical Therapy to set up a consultation.