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The Needs of the CrossFit Patient

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Sarah Haran PT, DPT, OCS, CF - L2 earned a BS in exercise science from Gonzaga University and a DPT from the University of Washington. She has been practicing in Seattle for almost 15 years and opened her private practice, Arrow Physical Therapy in 2016. Her specialties include dance medicine, the CrossFit and weightlifting athlete, and conditions of the hip and pelvis such as femoroacetabular impingement and labral tears. In 2017, she began coaching other PTs who wanted to start their own practices and from there, she co-founded Full Draw Consulting with her partner Dr. Kate Blankshain. Together, they offer coaching, consulting, and several 8-week online business courses for Physical Therapy entrepreneurs. Sarah Haran instructs Weightlifting and Functional Fitness Athletes, next scheduled for February 26th, 2022.

 

As a physical therapist who works with CrossFit® athletes, I want to address a persistent problem we have in our professional community. Many PTs don’t know what to do with CrossFit® athletes.

When CrossFit® first came on the scene, a lot of PTs would encounter athletes who had injuries or dysfunctions related to their sport. Perhaps shoulder pain from kipping pull-ups or low back pain from deadlifts or kettlebell swings, maybe stress incontinence from box jumps.

Whatever it was, it seemed like we were seeing Crossfitter after Crossfitter in our practices. Was it that they were injuring themselves more than other athletes? Was it that their sport was bad and full of terrible ideas and awful coaching? I think what we were seeing was the quick growth of a popular sport (lots of people participating) and a community of people who not only were pushing themselves in the gym but who were interested in getting better and back into the gym quickly (ie. seeking rehab quickly). And then we were seeing rehab professionals who didn’t know how to help and were overwhelmed by the complexity of the sport.

And while there are some folks in healthcare who would like to see CrossFit® lose popularity, the reality is that it is here to stay and you will likely be faced with treating these athletes in some capacity. But what do we do with them? How do we keep our patients healthy when they want to continue to participate in CrossFit®??

The 3 primary duties of the physical therapist:

  • Work to understand the sport
  • Educate ourselves about where in the body these injuries commonly occur and how they happen
  • Design rehab programs:
    • ○ which address training volume just as we would in any other sport
    • ○ that are functional to these athletes
    • ○ that supplement CrossFit® workouts with accessory work to:
      • ■ drill positions
      • ■ strengthen weaknesses
      • ■ mobilize tightness
      • ■ improve endurance for these positions/movements

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The messaging we need to communicate to our CrossFit® patients:

  • Form and technique need to come first… then volume, weight, difficulty, and intensity.
  • Mobility is not just flexibility; we also need to emphasize stability through a range of motion.
  • Scaling and modifying is critical to all athletes at some point in their career. Work with your PT and coach to make appropriate decisions.
  • CrossFit® is here to stay. Let’s keep our athletes in this sport for the long haul.

 

Treating CrossFit® athletes has been a primary passion of mine for many years and it is very exciting to be able to offer a course with Herman & Wallace that introduces the sport to other PTs. You do not have to be a CrossFit® athlete or specialist to want to help these patients and we want all the fabulous PTs out there to be able to impact the CrossFit® community effectively.

Weightlifting and Functional Fitness Athletes will review the history and style of Crossfit exercise and Weightlifting, as well as examine the role that therapists must play for these athletes. Common orthopedic issues presented to the clinic will be examined.

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