Featured Guest Author

Thomas J. Burnett, MD – Legacy Medical Centers

Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation physician

Nobody wants to be injured, especially if fitness means a lot to you. But even experienced athletes can fall victim to injuries due to lack of proper equipment, poor training practices, insufficient warm-ups, or just plain bad luck. Certain sports and physical activities come with an increased risk of injury compared to others as well. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid them entirely. Regardless of your atheltic level, physical therapy and rehabilitation can keep you on track to achieve your fitness goals safely.

Crossfit and other high intensity workouts are becoming more popular and getting a bad reputation for making you more prone to injury. The heavy weight lifting and intense cardio involved in Crossfit and similar activities, like P90X, can be difficult for some, especially if you lack proper form or tend to push yourself to your limits. Fortunately, most of these injuries can be prevented with proper training and remembering to leave your ego at the door. They can also be treated effectively with physical therapy and rehabilitation, allowing those who suffer from an injury to return to their routines quickly. Even better, with certain forms of physical therapy, athletes can prevent injuries from returning by improving their form and technique.

Functional Rehabilitation is an offshoot of physical therapy that identifies a physical problem, treats the affected parts of your body, and uses functional exercises and activity modifications to relieve pain and regain function of previously injured areas. For a weight lifter who injured their lower back by using poor lifting mechanics, functional rehab could allow them to regain their pre-injury strength and learn proper form, allowing them to return from an injury stronger than before.

Any effective treatment relies on the commitment of the patient to their own health, along with the dedication of a doctor to their individual needs. A good doctor doesn’t just treat the injury, they treat the person, keeping in mind their personal and fitness goals for the long-term.

Why Might You Need Functional Rehab?

Regardless of which type of exercise you choose, proper form is required to avoid injury. If you  sacrifice form for speed or for competition’s sake, you can increase your likelihood of injury. Many people think that strength sports carry more risk of injury than endurance sports like long-distance running, but in fact, strength sports are no more likely  to cause injury than endurance sports. According to multiple athletic studies, training for strength sports is associated with lower injury rates.

Many sports injuries develop over time, leading to what is known as a chronic overuse injury. This is different from an acute injury, which happens when someone experiences a sudden presentation of symptoms. Acute injuries, such as concussions or broken bones, are much easier to diagnose than chronic injuries, which develop over time. Pain caused by small, barely noticeable injuries often goes unreported, leading to the progression of a chronic injury.

Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise, and never ignore warning signs. Whether you’ve experienced a fall or you’re beginning to feel abnormally sore after exercise, it’s important to recognize that these aches and pains may lead to a more serious injury. In many cases, a slight issue will resolve itself with sufficient rest, but if a problem persists, it’s advisable to see a physician. Not only will a medical professional offer treatment for your condition, but some can help you establish healthier, more biomechanically sound exercise habits.

What is Functional Rehabilitation?

Physical therapy and rehabilitation should not focus on the injury alone, it should be about the long term goals: Achieving your physical fitness goals despite your current injuries. This is where functional rehab is most beneficial.

Functional rehabilitation combines the traditional elements of physical therapy, such as strength and flexibility, while incorporating agility and more complex training regimens. By first correcting inefficient biomechanics, patients can eventually expect to work out at pre-injury levels, all while reducing the risk injury recurrence. Through a functional rehabilitation program, patients can progress from simple activities, such as jogging or push-ups, to more complex activities, such as powerlifting or plyometrics, with less risk of injury than before.

A prime example of functional rehabilitation can be seen while working with young gymnasts whose sport requires a delicate balance of both flexibility and explosive power for optimal performance in events such as the parallel bars or in floor tumbling.  The grueling tempo of practice and competition seen with some of the more elite gymnasts result in repetitive application of submaximal stress, often without adequate rest.  Compound this with rapid skeletal growth and resultant tight musculotendinous units, and this population is at particular risk for both acute and chronic injuries.

For example, adolescent gymnasts commonly present to my office with progressive low back, anterior knee, or posterior ankle symptoms- and although this is the nidus of current pain, it is often a result of either hypo- or less commonly hypermobility in that area or extremity.

In these cases, it is obviously important to address the current presenting symptom, but in my opinion, it is of greater long term importance to address the precipitating factor(s).  This is where functional rehabilitation, tailored to an individual’s two-week, two-month and 10-year goals, would play a huge role in not only treating the injury at hand but also the risk factors (i.e. spinal segmental hypomobility, overly tight hip flexors, anterior tilted pelvis or weak glutes in the case of low back pain) that might result in future injuries.  Ben Franklin’s adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here. Early identification and modification of the training program can minimize time lost and ensure successful return to sport.

Functional rehabilitation employs a patient-centered approach to treatment by focusing on the individual rather than the injury.

Quality patient care must focus on the needs of the patient and developing a partnership between them and their practitioner. This approach opens the lines of communication and allows you to actively participate your own healing process, ensuring that your doctor’s recommendations are in line with your individual needs.

Dr. Thomas J. Burnett, MD

Dr. Thomas J. Burnett graduated with honors from the University of Dayton in 2002 and from the University Toledo College of Medicine in 2007. After a year of residency at UPMC, he served 3 years as a flight surgeon for the 178th Fighter Wing and 445th Airlift Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In 2011, Dr. Burnett was awarded the Commendation Medal for his achievement during his deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as a validating flight surgeon of Regional Command South.

After his honorable discharge, Dr. Burnett completed his residency at UPMC in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2014 and joined the staff of Burnett Family Chiropractic and Sports Performance to expand into Legacy Medical Centers. Today, he serves as acting medical director of Legacy Medical Centers’ two locations.

Throughout his career he has followed his passion for sports and running medicine, working with professional athletes and serving his local community by offering free baseline concussion screenings. He currently lives in Peters Township with his wife Nancy and his two boys, Colin and Keaton.

For more information about Dr. Burnett’s or Legacy Medical Centers of Pittsburgh, please visit their website, www.legacymedicalpgh.com, or contact (724) 941-0707 to learn more about their patient-centered approach.