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PT Students Practice Adaptive Sports


September 24, 2020
A PCOM Georgia physical therapy student assists a classmate using a wheelchair to shoot a basketball on an outdoor court.
A PT student in a wheelchair has a pass with a basketball with a classmate.
PCOM Georgia's PT students watch as a classmate in a wheelchair shoots a basketball on an outdoor court.
PCOM Georgia PT students shoot hoops while using wheel chairs so they can learn more about adaptive sports.
A physical therapy student rolls a wheelchair on a basketball court so he can learn more about sports opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Students learned the challenges of playing in a wheelchair and will use the experience to better serve their future patients.


While learning about adaptive sports, third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students recently experienced playing basketball and performing drills in wheelchairs on the campus of PCOM Georgia.

“Adaptive sport experiences give you a new perspective into the challenges, equipment and competitive drive of para-athletes,” said Robert Kane (DPT ’21). “It’s incredible to be able to learn and gain knowledge as a future healthcare provider to promote adaptive sports.”

According to Shelley DiCecco, PT, PhD, CLT-LANA, CI-CS, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, physical therapists often play a vital role in adaptive sports, which began as a way to rehabilitate veterans. In the 1960’s, she said, an organization known as Disabled Sports USA started organizing sports for disabled athletes. Sports can include basketball, snow and water skiing, golf, fishing, kayaking, running, horseback riding, cycling, paddling, volleyball, swimming, tennis and several other activities.

Aside from encouraging patients to participate in sports, Dr. DiCecco said, physical therapists assist in wheelchair fittings, select and fit prostheses, help athletes increase strength, endurance and motion, and rehab injuries of athletes who wish to return to the sport.

She added, “With adaptive sports, modifications are made so the person can participate in the sport and often the disability type is placed in a classification system so athletes with similar disabilities play each other.”

Prior to COVID-19, the physical therapy department had planned for local athletes currently participating in adaptive sports to help educate the physical therapy students. When this wasn’t possible, one group of physical therapy students was assigned to research and provide a thorough introduction into adaptive sports, Alaina Bell, PT, DPT, instructor in the Department of Physical Therapy, said. Wearing appropriate PPE, the students then worked in small groups to perform basketball skills in a wheelchair.

“From this experience, the students obtained a greater appreciation for how much more difficult it is to dribble, pass, throw and retrieve a ball while in a wheelchair, Dr. Bell said. “They learned how the muscles are used differently and where one would need to focus on strength training or stretching to be able to complete the necessary skills.”

Annette Nowicki (DPT ’21) said learning about adaptive sports was “eye-opening” for many reasons. “Many of these patients have gone through a traumatic experience, so being able to incorporate sports and promote physical activity gives our patients hope, motivation and a sense of belonging. As future physical therapists, we have the opportunity to strengthen, motivate and assist patients to get back to what they love doing, or even show them that they can do anything they want.”

Katelyn Nesbit (DPT ’21) said, “We learned that athletes with disabilities have shown improvement in their quality of life when participating in adaptive sports.” Jill Le (DPT ’21) added, “I’m glad that I could participate in this activity so I can better serve and advocate for my future patients to reach their full potential.”

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  • About PCOM Georgia

    Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.

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    Barbara Myers
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    Email: BarbaraMy@pcom.edu
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