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Using Visualization to Enhance Athletic Performance and Physical Therapy

As physical therapists and medical professionals, we’re all about the mechanics of the human body. Bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves…they’re all foundational in what we do and how we do it – and in what our patients do and how they do it. What patients may not be aware of is the fact that their mental approach to physical therapy and recovery from an injury or surgery in general has a huge impact on how well they progress.

Visualization, also called guided imagery, is a powerful tool that has long been used successfully by elite athletes including pros and Olympians. It’s simply creating a mental “video” of something you would like to have occur in real life. The key to success is using specific details and repetition to give your mind a sort of mental muscle memory. For instance, gymnasts visualize themselves completing their routines perfectly – from the moment they step out onto the mat until they stick that landing, including every little flourish, jump and twist – over and over again.

According to research (see link to article below) using imagery for injury rehab may speed up the healing process when used in conjunction with appropriate physical therapy treatment. Maintaining a positive attitude and using mental skills were hallmarks of patients considered fast healers. Research found that fast healers:

  • took personal responsibility for healing
  • had high desire and determination
  • had more social support
  • maintained a positive attitude
  • used creative visualization
  • were less fearful of re-injury upon return to full participation


Guided imagery can be applied to many facets of life and fitness. It’s simple and requires only the time and discipline to create and practice detailed scenarios. Keeping in mind that working with licensed, experienced physical therapists and other medical professionals is a must for successful rehab, we will say we’re also big fans of visualization.

Click here for the full Association for Applied Sport Psychology article (mentioned above).

Interested in reading more? Click here for related information in Podium Sports Journal.




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The Miller PT Team

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