How Physical Therapy Can Help CrossFit Athletes

Jun 12, 2017

Scott Jackson

by Scott Jackson
PT, DPT, Cert DN, Cert SMT | Green Valley

What is Crossfit?

CrossFit is a form of exercise that varies functional movements which reflect aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, rowing, running and more. The aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad and general fitness regimen that challenges the individual. As with any other athletic endeavor, there is a risk of injury associated with high-intensity workouts. Problems tend to arise when your movement techniques are not on-point and can lead to chronic back problems, stiffness, poor posture and tendinitis.

My goal with this three-part series is to discuss common injuries on the lower quarter which can arise from CrossFit. These are comprised of lumbar strains, stiff and tight hip flexors, lumbar disc herniations (sciatica). I’ll also share the current research on rhabdomyolysis and its actual risks associated with Crossfit.

Lumbar Strains

Lifting weights that are too heavy for your current conditioning can cause a breakdown in exercise form and technique. This can lead to lumbar strains which can cause a significant amount of pain. Lumbar strains can be divided into two subgroups:

Muscle Strains: This is a result of the muscle being overstretched or torn (most notably with the erector spinae or lumbar multifi), which causes damage to the muscle fibers.

Muscle Sprains: This is a result of the ligaments being over stretched or torn.

Most lumbar strains last three to four weeks, but the muscles to begin to weaken after a period of two weeks. Most patients avert using the low back muscles and begin guarding, which begins disuse atrophy. This leads to a viscous cycle of pain and weakness which can increase with time. A comprehensive physical therapy intervention plan should include some (or all) of the outlined techniques below.

Spinal Manipulation: this treatment option is utilized to loosen restricted joints, muscles and pain modulation. It is generally a high velocity-low amplitude thrust which is comfortable to the pain.

Dry Needling: This treatment option is primarily utilized for pain management. Dry needling involves utilizing a solid filiform needle for treatment to muscle tissue, osseous tissue, ligaments or nervous tissue.

Thermo Therapy:Cold can be an option for initial inflammatory processes with the initial onset of injury with a typical time of application 10 to 15 minutes. Heat can be utilized for the stimulation of blood flow to the injured area. The typical time for heat stimulation would range 15 to 20 minutes.

Exercise Program: This treatment option should be comprised of a stretching program, strengthening exercises and low impact aerobic exercises. This program should consist of a progression from initial onset of injury to return to sport.

If you’re interested in learning more about how physical therapy can help CrossFit athletes, visit our website to contact a ProActive Physical Therapy clinic near you.


Bronfort, G., Haas, M., Evans, R., Leiniger, B., & Triano, J. (2010). Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Chiropractic & Osteopathy, 18(1), 3. doi:10.1186/1746-1340-18-3

Dunning J, Butts R, Mourad F, Young I, Flannagan S, Perreault T.Dry needling: a literature review with implications for clinical practice guidelines. (2013). Physical Therapy Reviews. doi:10.1179/1743288x13y.0000000118

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