PT Classroom - Why Physical Therapists Must Embrace CrossFit ׀ by Michael Curtis, PT, DPT, OCS


Michael Curtis is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist and Doctor of Physical Therapy. He operates a website and free resource for patients and the general public to access expert advice on preventing pain and injury, improving function and fitness. Michael recently wrote an eBook entitled Why You Have Bad Posture and How To Make It Better. For a free copy of the eBook and access to more content by Michael, click here.

Why Physical Therapists Must Embrace CrossFit


Regardless of your experience or current views of CrossFit, you’re welcome here - this is a safe place. If you’ve had a chance to see the CrossFit Games competition that takes place every year in Southern California, you’ve witnessed the brutal workouts these men and women put their bodies through. The level of intensity they attain is truly something to behold. You may have also had a chance to see a CrossFit fail videos on Youtube – also something to behold.

Whether watching CrossFit impresses you or makes you cringe, you’re in good company. Based on the Physical Therapists that I’ve spoken with on the controversy that is CrossFit, opinions are quite polarizing.

One thing’s for sure, CrossFit isn’t going away any time soon. Since its inception in 2000, CrossFit has grown to include over 11,000 affiliated boxes (gyms) worldwide . Every year there is an Open competition that anyone can be a part of, and every year there are thousands more participants than the previous year. What this means for us, as you may have noticed, is that we are seeing more and more patients with CrossFit-related injuries.

Have you ever treated a CrossFit athlete? That’s how I view them, by the way – as athletes. Fitness level aside, this is the mentality of each and every individual that participates in CrossFit – a competitor and an athlete – and if one becomes my patient, I will treat them as I would an athlete of any other sport.

Speaking of sports, that’s how we must view CrossFit – as a sport.

CrossFit Is a Sport

The problem many PTs have with CrossFit is that it breaks all the rules of fitness. Instead of going slow on every repetition, they go as fast as they can. Instead of resting two days before the next workout, they go at it again the next day, if not sooner.

While I don’t agree that CrossFit bootcamp classes are the safest way to get fit for someone just starting out, I would have to say I feel the same way about running.

How many runners have you treated for knee pain? Do you tell them they shouldn’t run ever again and make them feel stupid for even wanting to run in the first place?

“But our bodies were designed to run,” you say, “we’ve done it for centuries, it’s natural.”

Have you ever run a marathon? There’s nothing natural about running 26.2 miles. It will destroy you. Yet we applaud the marathoner and get her lacing up her Asics as soon as possible for the next one.

But that’s sport.

Pushing beyond what you thought possible to reach your goal.

And that’s our job as Physical Therapists: to help people achieve their goals in the most optimal way.

How Physical Therapists Can Optimize CrossFit Performance To Prevent Injury

A Physical Therapist would treat an athlete in any other sport – football, soccer, running - the same way. We want them to do what they love. That’s what they want, too - that’s why they come to us.

Of course, there is a disclaimer here. I wouldn’t tell someone with acute patellar tendinitis to go run 10 miles in the name of sport – that’s just foolish. I’d tell them to rest from running as treatment progresses and return in a progressive manner.

We will lose our trust with the CrossFit community if we tell them to stop – and they won’t stop – they’ll just go to someone who is willing to help them, or worse, push through the pain and get injured further.

I’m not here to debate whether the principles applied in CrossFit are 100% optimal for the human body – that’s another article entirely.

The bottom line is, yes, CrossFit can cause injury. In fact, it has been shown that participation in CrossFit yields a 20% injury rate according to the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine . This population is getting injured and needs us to educate them.

How can you educate them? If you’re unfamiliar with CrossFit and the different movements included in their workouts, I urge you to learn more. Take a look at where there’s an array of instructional videos on many of the exercises. If we are to be experts in human movement, we must know these movements backward and forward.

Embrace, Don’t Hate

So please, if you see a CrossFit athlete as a patient, treat them with respect. Remember, this is their sport, this is what they love. Have them show you what movements are causing them pain. Analyze it, critique it, and see if you can make improvements.

The take away here and what I hope I’m communicating clearly is that we must embrace the CrossFit community, treat them like we would any other athlete, and get them back to doing what they love. We can achieve this collectively by promoting proper technique and safe principles.

Too many people in this country aren’t moving, aren’t lifting things, and are living sedentary lives. Our bodies were made to lift things, move things, to run, to swim, to sweat, and to work until fatigued. This should be encouraged and optimized to push further and achieve more in the most effective way possible.

This is where Physical Therapy and sport intersect.

This is where I want to be - right in the middle of it.

Join me.


Last revised: February 18, 2017
by Michael Curtis, PT, DPT, OCS


ii Weisenthal, et al. Injury Rate and Patterns Among Crossfit Athletes. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine April 2014 vol.2 no. 4

Terms & Conditions

Please review our terms and conditions carefully before utilization of the Site. The information on this Site is for informational purposes only and should in no way replace a conventional visit to an actual live physical therapist or other healthcare professional. It is recommended that you seek professional and medical advise from your physical therapist or physician prior to any form of self treatment.