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Part 1: Differentiate your Physical Therapy Clinic with Elite Athlete-like Care

Physical therapist and patient

Key Takeaway: 

For Part 1 of this 3 post series, professional athlete, Olympian, and physical therapist, Rachel Neylan talks about the value of applying her high-performance framework in training to physical therapy patient care.


Among the top echelon of global sport, successful coach/athlete relationships are increasingly becoming one of the fundamental determinants of performance. The rise of global streaming, documentaries, podcasts, and social media insights gives us a backstage pass to discover how athletes think, train and perform. Usually, the coach is also not far from the limelight.

I've always had a coach, holding this relationship in the highest regard. We can be effective at self-analysis, but to elevate beyond and push human performance to greater heights it takes another eye, perspective, insight and experience to help us push beyond our physical limitations as high-performance athletes.

As a physiotherapist, I treated my patients like athletes no matter their condition. I took care to establish a strategy with their end goal, set target milestones and provide clear feedback along the way. It was an approach that most often pushed my patients into discomfort zones but revealed a pathway to their actual potential. I call it a

‘high-performance care framework’.

We can draw a convenient comparison between the coach/athlete dynamic and the practitioner/patient relationship. An athlete and coach will always devise a strategy toward performance outcomes with plotted goals along the way, while the same is true for practitioner and patients.

Starting with my specific race outcomes and goals, my coach directs training toward my peak performance weeks based on the team race schedule. Therefore, I train, eat, sleep, and compete accordingly to reach the right physiological peaks at the right time.

Over the years, I’ve monitored my own performance and progress with a technology-based ‘training diary’, a platform which houses all my power data and performance metrics. This practice holds me accountable and motivated. It also helps my coach better understand performance trends or when I need to change the focus to reach my peaks.

The same can be applied to musculoskeletal (MSK) rehabilitation. Measurement tools and technologies helps trigger a brain’s reward system. The mesolimbic dopamine system, (also known as the brain’s reward pathways) plays an imperative role in our learning. Positive optical feedback activates dopamine neurons in the brain, reinforcing the performance or rehabilitation work done and improvements made.

This hardwired reward system, when activated by visual information, is pivotal in achieving our athletic or rehabilitative goals. As professional athletes these tools propel us toward our performance goals by activating these dopamine pathways. What we do with all this great data is how we get an edge, how we differentiate ourselves from the competition. But visual communication is largely missing from orthopedic physiotherapy.

If driving better outcomes is part of your 2024 strategic plan, try treat patients as an athlete by putting THEIR outcomes and goals at the heart of both oral and visual communication and the treatment plans. Utilize new technologies for feedback and benchmarking, goal setting, communication, and to monitor and engage patients in their progress. This is the coach-athlete ‘high performance care framework’ at work.


The success of athletes is intertwined with the success of their coaches, often leading to long-lasting contractual relationships. Similarly, PT clinic owners and operators can witness financial gains by increasing the lifetime value of their patients, fostering loyalty and encouraging return visits, as well as generating more referrals. This becomes a crucial factor in differentiating your physical therapy clinic in a competitive market.


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