A twist of the shoulder. A kick to the knee. A punch to the face. The top-ranked mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter brings down his opponent with impressive ease. But after the fight, he begins to feel his own injuries—torn ligaments, a strained rotator cuff, a broken hand—the result of strikes, kicks, and punches associated with this elite combat sport. And no wonder: MMA, which combines boxing, jujitsu, and other techniques, can produce a wide range of physical trauma.
Yet it’s that very fact that makes physical therapy an ideal approach to MMA injuries, says Dr. Jay Itzkowitz ’13, a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) graduate and the director of Gelb Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Boca Raton, Florida.
“Our training allows us to view the body from a mechanistic approach. We can identify dysfunction in the joints, muscles, and ligaments, and then help stabilize, strengthen, and manipulate them.”
A former athletic trainer, Itzkowitz has always had an interest in sports, although he admits to cringing when he initially came across televised MMA fights. When his colleague Dr. Howard Gelb, an orthopedic surgeon, became involved with the athletes—many of whom live and train in southern Florida—fighters began flocking to their practice. Itzkowitz soon found that these patients come with their own challenges—and rewards.
Despite their ferocious nature in the octagon (or maybe because of), “they are among my most motivated patients,” he explains. “Their bodies are their livelihood, so they’re committed to taking care of themselves, and their martial arts training gives them a strong sense of respect.”
These patients appreciate Itzkowitz’s approach to care, which takes into account the whole body. It’s one he credits his professors at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences for instilling in him. “Mentors like Drs. Stanley Paris and Catherine Patla taught me the importance of a thorough physical evaluation and to look for compensatory changes that can occur with multiple injuries,” he says. “That helps me better treat these athletes—and all of our patients—and prevent future problems so they can get back to doing what they love.”