Specificity of Training in Rehab and Athletic Training

When a new patient arrives at their first physical therapy appointment, there is usually a sense of unsureness about how they can possibly recover from their injury or condition and get back to their full, 100% self. This is especially true for athletes who were once so accustomed to performing at such a high level, and who now find themselves unable to walk without crutches or lift their arm even to shoulder height. But this may also be true for the everyday patient whose job requires them to bend and lift items or stand for long periods of time throughout the day. Whatever the case may be, it is important that all new patients understand the proper principles of an effective rehab plan, which, for athletes, progresses into an athletic training program.

“Specificity of training” refers to the idea that a training program begins with general strengthening and conditioning and progresses to a highly specific set of activities that allows an individual to improve at certain tasks. For example, if a runner injures an ankle, their initial rehab program will include basic ankle strengthening exercises and general aerobic exercises. However, as improvements are made, that program will evolve to include running activities so as to allow that patient to increase their ability to
run once again. An example that involves a non-athlete may be a warehouse employee who strains his back. That patient’s initial rehab program may include general strengthening and flexibility exercises but will progress to include bending and lifting tasks that will be required upon that patient’s return to work.

The idea of “specificity of training” works because, in order to get better at something, one must practice whatever that “something” is. In physical therapy, your PT will gather from you what your specific goals are – whether that be to return to a sport, getting back to work, being able to lift a grandchild – and develop a plan that will progress over time in order for you to achieve your goals. You may notice that your initial exercises are very basic, but that is merely a way to build a foundation for the progression that is to come. Remember that each person progresses at their own individual rate, so not every patient is on the same rehab schedule. Your PT will watch you closely and listen to your report concerning how you are feeling each visit in order to make adjustments to your rehab program to ensure continued functional development. In this way, each patient’s individual goals may be met over the course of their time in physical therapy.

It is my hope that this blog article sheds some light on the general progression of a rehab and/or athletic training program and on how it will be streamlined to meet each person’s specific goals. Here’s to wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Rob Kohutanycz, PT, DPT

Posted in: Physical Therapy

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