Soft-tissue therapy for athletes

Injury prevention isn’t all about knee braces and shin guards. Athletic programs are exploring all avenues when it comes to keeping players healthy, and soft tissue mobilization is among those gaining popularity.

For coaches that don’t have foam rollers or other instruments in their locker rooms, they’ve likely witnessed athletes using them. Soft-tissue therapy has been in place for a long time, but recently it’s becoming more common among young athletes and those recovering from injuries.

SoftTissueTherapy“It’s something that’s done more now,” said Mark Bersheim, a physical therapist in Devon, Pennsylvania, who often works with athletes. “Years ago it was probably overlooked, but now we’re looking at more of the whole body. When we have a soft-tissue injury, we’re looking above and below it to see if that’s contributing to the injury.”

Bersheim assists athletes on a number of levels. He breaks up scar tissue, which helps to recover from injuries and avoid future problems. He also aids athletes in rebounding from fascia-related injuries, which coaches should always be watching out for.

“Look out for the minor things, the little symptoms that could build up to big ones,” Bersheim said. “We’d look at a little tightness in the calf and that might not be restricting a guy, but that could build up to a point where he tears his calf. It’s important to listen to athletes about the little complaints because they can build up to be big complaints.”

The repetitive injuries tend to come more from swimmers and runners, Bersheim said. Athletes in those sports constantly make the same motion and might even participate in other sports that continue to wear on the same parts of their bodies. For example, a cross country runner who is also on the track team might break down in ways that a baseball or football player wouldn’t.

Bersheim treats athletes of all ages, though he said those that push their bodies the hardest — college and high school players — tend to need more treatment. Overuse can be a contributing factor, especially in sports that involve a lot of running. That can eventually lead to major catastrophe.

“We’re going to have these micro-traumas that eventually build and build, and then we’re going to have a major trauma,” Bersheim said. “It accumulates, and once you have a major shutdown, the athletes can’t practice or perform in their sport.”

The issue then is what athletes can do about it. Bersheim acknowledged that the foam rollers are becoming more popular, and they’re one of the most effective methods athletes can use to help muscles recover and prevent certain types of injuries.

Professionals like Bersheim use instruments to help release tissue and restrictions in the muscle. HawkGrips are one of the handheld tools used by a number of Division I, MLB, NFL and NBA teams that assist in soft-tissue therapy.

Bersheim said these types of instruments have done wonders for physical therapists and athletic trainers who would otherwise have to use their hands in soft-tissue recovery. Fatigue would eventually set in, but they’re able to avoid that with the tools.

“This allows us to be a little more aggressive,” Bersheim said. “Our hands can fatigue, and if we work really aggressively with the instrument we can really get in deeper and find those (problem) areas better.”

Not every high school is fortunate enough to have an athletic trainer, but Bersheim said there are a number of resources out there that can help coaches and athletes establish recovery programs on their own. They can also talk to professionals at other schools to get advice and direction.

“There are a lot of different ways to work with soft issue,” Bersheim said. “We’ve always worked it out and it’s always been there, but now we’re a lot more advanced and using these tools.”

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