"Combat athletes"—individuals who compete in sports such as boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, and Brazilian jiu jitsu—subject their bodies to intensely demanding situations that can lead to serious injury. But physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) can be instrumental in helping them recover from (and even prevent) those injuries and come out swinging—or kicking. Or both.
The April edition of PT in Motion magazine features an exploration of the world of combat sports and the PTs who treat this special class of athletes. The PTs interviewed in the piece bring a wealth of experience to the topic—not only through their professional knowledge, but by way of their own involvement in combat sports, from karate to Muay Thai (Thai boxing) and Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense and fighting system.
Although the types of injuries PTs see vary somewhat by the type of combat sport in question, most PTs in the story say that hip and shoulder impingements aren't uncommon, with shoulder conditions often caused by postural problems that are a carryover from training.
"Many of these patients stay in 'fight stance,' continuing to cover their chin as they go to their [daytime or salaried] jobs," Jessica Probst, PT, DPT, tells PT in Motion. "For these patients, my first goal is to fully normalize thoracic mobility, costal mobility, and cervical mobility through manual intervention."
In addition to applying a PT's knowledge and skills to the challenges of treating the combat athlete, it's also helpful if the clinician has a thorough understanding of the sport itself, according to Charles Rainey, PT, DPT, DSc, MS, a lieutenant commander with the Naval Health Clinic in Hawaii. Rainey was himself a competitive combat athlete.
"I have a common line of communication with the athletes because we speak the same language," Rainey says in the article. "So, when an athlete says he was put into a Kimura [an armlock] and adds, 'I didn't tap out quick enough,' I know which shoulder anatomical structures might have experienced trauma. I also know what physical demands these athletes face day in and day out, and I understand the dynamics of training, rest, and recovery."
The feature article also includes perspectives from the athletes themselves, who share a sincere appreciation for the power of physical therapy to not only help them quickly recover from injury, but to prevent future injury.
"As an athlete, extending the life of my body is key to my success as a professional fighter, so it is important to make sure everything is working properly and efficiently," Muay Thai athlete Kru Vivek Nakarmi tells PT in Motion. "A good PT is a key partner in injury treatment and prevention for athletes. Also it's important to avoid unnecessary surgery, and physical therapy often provides an effective alternative to surgery."
"Working With Combat Athletes" is featured in the April issue of PT in Motion magazine and is open to all viewers—pass it along to nonmember colleagues to show them 1 of the benefits of belonging to APTA. Printed editions of the magazine are mailed to all members who have not opted out; digital versions are available online to members.