Ask Mike Reinold Show

How Physical Therapists can Specialize in Sports Rehabilitation


On this episode of The Ask Mike Reinold Show, we talk about ways that a physical therapist can start specializing in a specific sport. There’s a lot that goes into the evaluation and treatment of sports injuries, here’s how to get started. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to

#AskMikeReinold Episode 186: How Physical Therapists can Specialize in Sports Rehabilitation

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Show Notes


Mike Reinold: On this episode of the Ask Mike Reinold Show, we talk about how you can start specializing in specific sports rehabilitation.

Mike Reinold: All right. What do we have for questions, Ryan?

Student: We have Chris from New York. He says, “Hi guys, I’m a young physical therapist, less than two years out of school in an orthopedic setting and I’m looking to specialize in baseball related injuries and rehabilitation. I was wondering what your best advice would be to move toward a specialization such as baseball.”

Mike Reinold: All right. So two years out of college.

Student: Two years.

Mike Reinold: Is that what it was? Good. So pretty common question I think that we have. And I don’t think we need to talk about baseball, right? We can all talk about anything we want, but I guess the question is the young clinician two years out wants to start specializing in some sport or some activity. This one specifically baseball. Probably a good question. And I’m glad you’ve done it this way ’cause we have students and young clinicians all the time that come through and immediately want to specialize in something. And I kind of like how you’re two, three years out of school. You kind of learned a little bit of everything, right? Doing some general kind of approaches and now want to get a little bit more specific. I like that.

Mike Reinold: So who wants to start? I mean, let’s answer this as a kind of how to specialize into a niche population, right? Or as Dave would say a niche population.

Lenny Macrina: Classic.

Mike Reinold: Who wants to start first?

Dan Pope: Want me to do it?

Mike Reinold: Wow, man. I don’t know. I definitely would take a poll by the audience. Doesn’t sound like Dan’s into it, but yeah.

Dan Pope: Yeah.

Lenny Macrina: Dude, how’d you get into baseball?

Dan Pope: So when I was 14… No… I actually played baseball a little bit, but I can’t throw anymore. Any way, I think what’s really important is you have to be embedded into the community that you want to be a part of, right?

Dan Pope: So for me, I do a lot of fitness. I also did a lot of CrossFit. So the first thing I did is I was a CrossFit coach, right? So if I want to try and be within this community, I have to actually be within this community first and foremost. And part of that is networking with a lot of local coaches. So what I did is I did a ton of going from CrossFit gym to CrossFit gym speaking to the coaches, talking to them a little bit. If they’re sending athletes to me, I communicate back with them. We collaborate a little bit over the course of time. I also allied myself with different surgeons in the area that knew about fitness and knew about kind of the physical, or excuse me, the surgery side for the fitness population as opposed to just like regular surgery I guess. And that was really helpful and that was really good for getting more people in the door for me that were specific to CrossFits I guess.

Mike Reinold: So it sounds like what what you did, you took the approach of… And you actually became a CrossFit coach although that was before you were a physical therapist, right?

Dan Pope: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: You were doing some strength stuff back in the day.

Dan Pope: Yup.

Mike Reinold: Before you were PT, but what Dan did was he not only joined the community, which I think is a very valuable tip, right? Join the community. So that way you understand the culture, you understand the experience, you understand even the passion, right? Like a lot of people want to get into something like fitness, right? But then don’t enjoy working out. Well, that’s going to be really challenging because it’s not going to be very authentic that you don’t train yourself. How are you going to work with advanced level trainees? I think that that’s an important concept, you know?

Mike Reinold: So you have to understand the techniques. You have to understand the specifics of that particular thing. But also, I think you said this really well, the culture and the community. I think that’s a good one.

Mike Reinold: So who else wants to talk about maybe… Like Dave, maybe with gymnastics. How much do you think your being a gymnast and knowing not just the culture, but how to communicate to these athletes? How much do you think that’s important that you have the experience to talk to these athletes that you work with?

Dave Tilley: Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest thing in terms of being able to like develop rapport with a person. I think that we see this in here all the time. Whether it’s you guys with baseball and crossfit and Mike with golf, it’s like the second that you start speaking their language and you understand their terminology. You understand what their competitive situation looks like. You understand their goals. You can have a very different conversation with them that I think allows them to feel comfortable. And one sharing all of their problems with you in terms of why it hurts or what they’re maybe not telling their coach, what they’re not telling their parents, but then also they probably have much more buy in terms of actually following what you prescribed to them.

Dave Tilley: And so, I mean blessing or a curse, we’ve had people in here who have probably gotten similar advice than you’ve gotten elsewhere in physical therapist. But because you put it in a context of baseball or golf, they’re like, “Oh, okay. Like this person understands what I’m trying to get back to or they’ve done this themselves they understand it.” So I think it’s really important because one, you can never… like I said, have rapport that person. But two, is that you can be a pretty good communicator between the whole party of people involved, the parent, the coach, and then obviously you, yourself as the therapist, and the athlete. If you guys have common language, it’s easier to talk about problems.

Mike Reinold: Yeah. And the other concept I think too is that you understand their life and their future expectations, right?

Dave Tilley: Sure. Sure.

Mike Reinold: So we deal with this a lot in baseball, right? We may have an athlete that sees a doctor and because it’s magically week eight, right? They can start like a throwing program or whatever it may be for whatever that was. When we often times… We sit down and we talk about, “Well what’s your strategy for the year? When do we need to be ready? What’s the most important part of your year? Is it the spring or is it the summer?” And we kind of have like a more… Almost like a concierge level discussion with them that we can help guide them because we know their goal is to get a college scholarship or to get drafted or whatever it may be for your sport. We know that that’s their goal.

Mike Reinold: Where a lot of times doctors and other physical therapists, they’re just, “Well it’s week eight.” And I can do this exercise now, right? And it’s very simplistic with a timeline versus understanding the broad scope of not only their injury right now, but their competitive season and their career if that’s important. Mike, what do you think on… What’s your experience with golfers? I mean obviously you’ve done a great job. Ton of golfers in here. Something you’re passionate about. I think they all see that you’re a very average golfer on Instagram if they follow you, but what…

Mike Scaduto: There’s so many come backs. I would say the big thing, and this is a little more in general than just golf specific, is recognizing what your primary referral source is going to be. So for golf, if you want to work with golfers who are looking to improve their performance or if they’re injured… The primary referral is probably going to be the golf coach and for baseball a lot of times it can be a pitching coach and baseball coach. If you want to work with a lot of post-op patients, if you want to work with post-op shoulders is probably going to be more the surgeons. So then you have to network within those referral sources. But you have to identify first.

Mike Scaduto: So for golfers you have to… Or at least in my experience was we kind of infiltrated I guess a golf instructor that gives lessons that we aligned with and we kind of took lessons from him from while. And then, eventually started talking about what we do. And then, kind of grew a relationship that way. But it wasn’t like we were trying to convince him to work with us. We kind of just worked with him a little bit and got to know him. And over time we developed that relationship.

Mike Reinold: Because you guys shared a lot of shared values, right?

Mike Scaduto: Shared the values.

Mike Reinold: Like you shared how to help people, right? And you’re doing it for the right reasons. I think that’s a great example, right? Is putting yourself out there. So Dan said, “Become a coach.” Mike said, “Well go work with those coaches.” Right? Because you want to understand what the coach is teaching. So we’ve all done lessons with particular golf instructor around our area. We understand the way he thinks. So if he sends us one of his clients to look at them, we know how we can then articulate what we’re going to do that aligns with his instructional strategy. So it’s this easy kind of connection with that. Len, anything to add?

Lenny Macrina: Yeah. Everybody summed it up really well. I think a couple of points that I’d like to make is you don’t have to play the sport in order to be a master in it. But I think-

Dave Tilley: Still hope for baseball.

Lenny Macrina: …definitely. Right. Exactly.

Mike Reinold: You have a doctorate in it.

Lenny Macrina: But I think it definitely helps to be able to talk the talk obviously. So I never played major league baseball, but I’ve treated a lot of major league baseball players. But I understand the sport. I can treat a gymnast, but I would definitely defer to Dave for more of the specific terminology.

Lenny Macrina: I think of it in two different ways. I think of it learning locally. Learning locally with doctors, learning locally. Especially for baseball, learning locally with like Mike said pitching coaches, hitting coaches, just coaches in general. Get in that relationship and then more of a broad educational thing. You want baseball. I’m going to challenge you again like I challenge somebody else. Go to Atlanta in January and go to the injuries and baseball course from ASMI. And learn from the best, what we think of the best, in baseball that are educating on that. So bring that back with you and network in that fashion.

Lenny Macrina: Go to Mike’s baseball website, the elite baseball website. And you can learn from there. And so, I think-

Mike Reinold: He must have it bookmarked.

Lenny Macrina: …have that so you’re always reading those blog posts and reading research. And then, you start putting content out and then people recognize you as a leader in your area. So I think there’s a bunch of different avenues that you can take that the guys have mentioned. And I think it always comes down to networking. When in doubt, just have relationships with people and that will open up doors for you.

Mike Reinold: So I like it. Relationships are a big one. Immersing yourself into the environment and community I think is huge. But I think Lenny just really nailed it with that end point. You need to become a huge student in that specific genre, right? If that’s what you want to get into, right? So you have to learn everything. Read every book, every article that comes out, every expert that you can learn from, go to courses and actually master that. So you actually have to be very passionate about this to be able to sustain doing this because you’re going to put a lot of effort to this.

Mike Reinold: But then on social media, that is what you should be focusing on, right? If all I put on social media was low back pain people? Guess who would come find me and want to work with me? Low back pain people, right? So it’s whatever you put out there and establish yourself as someone that understands that and you’re constantly promoting that, right? Dave’s all gymnastics on his social media feeds. You never will check Dave out because you heard about them and think, “Oh wow, this guy doesn’t know about gymnastics.” But if you’re all over the place and you’re doing a little bit on the ankle and then a little bit on the spine and a little bit on the shoulder and then an overhead athlete and then you have a total knee patient, that’s fine, but you’re not developing that specificity. So I think that’s… Educate yourself very specifically and then educate others very specifically on social media. I think that’s how I’d probably wrap it up, right?

Mike Reinold: So great question. We get similar questions a bunch. I think it’s important to kind of address that. So hopefully that answered your question. If you have more like this, head to and click on that podcast link. You could fill out the form and we’ll keep asking… Oh no, we’ll keep answering questions.

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