Sport Imagery: A Powerful Tool for Olympians

olympic skiierOlympic athletes have trained their bodies to near perfection by the time they arrive in PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympics.  However it is the mental preparation for the pressure that comes with competing at the 2018 Olympics that is critical, and may ultimately determine a gold versus silver medal.  Visual imagery has long been a part of the training regimen of elite athletes and has become increasingly more utilized across the world.

The US Olympic team traveled with nine sports psychologists this year to help athletes with overcoming fears and visualizing success.  Being able to envision success is critical to achieving such goals for athletes.  US team sports psychologist and professor at Univeristy of Utal, Dr. Detling states, “You are training those muscles, and if you are training those muscles to fail, that is not really where you want to be. So one of the things I’ll do is if they fail in an image, we stop, rewind and we replay again and again and again.”†

Visual imagery is a mental training technique which involves the athlete creating a picture of their sporting event in their minds.  Visual imagery can be used for the following:

-Increase confidence before competition
-Help with healing and recovery
-Improve relaxation between events
-Reduce discomfort and muscle inhibition that comes from intense physical demands
-Overcome prior mistakes and fears of failure associated with past errors

Here is a highly effective visualization exercise to help mentally gear up for the performance of a lifetime—whether you’re a dancer, high school baseball player, swimmer, avid runner, or recreational tennis player.  Spending just a few minutes before any big event just may give you that extra winning edge!

  1. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably with your eyes closed.  Start by imagining yourself just before your event.  Picture yourself approaching the starting line, climbing up onto the diving block, getting into position, lining up with your teammates, etc.
  2. Take a deep breath and begin to notice the sounds you hear around you
  3. What do you see?  What’s happening around you?
  4.  What do you smell?
  5. Notice the sensations inside your body and on your skin.
  6. Take another deep breath and let the event begin!  Picture yourself as if watching a movie.  Watch yourself spring into action—it’s your best performance ever!  Pay attention to the sensation of your flexing muscles and the movement of your body.  Note all of the sensations, sights, sounds, and smells as you push your body to its limit.
  7. Take another deep breath as you gear up for that final push.  You may even feel your heart rate and breathing speed up a bit as you imagine the exhilaration of this moment.
  8. Finally, imagine your big win.  Listen to the crowd cheer and feel the congratulatory pats on your back.  Allow the emotions to bring a smile to your face and congratulate yourself on your best performance ever!
  9. Take one last deep breath and open your eyes.

This exercise is really easy and well-worth the few minutes it takes to do.  Creating successful mental imagery requires practice and patience.  To learn more about how to practice this technique and the power of mental preparation before an athletic event, here are a few links to articles we think you might enjoy:

Huffington Post Article on 5 “Mind-Hacks” for Performance

Psychology Today article about Sport Imagery

A Peer-Reviewed Article from the Sport Journal on Performance Strategies

New York Times Article on Sports Imagery


†Source: Clarey, Christopher. “Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training”  New York Times. Feb 2014. Link to Article.


How to Manage Hip Arthritis


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common cause of hip pain in adults over 50. Simply put, OA is a degeneration of the hip joint. The cartilage that lines the joint degenerates over time until the femur (ball) and the acetabulum (socket) no longer have the lubrication and protection required for normal, smooth joint motion.  This can become quite painful and ultimately lead to decreased activity levels and increased difficulty with daily tasks such as walking and standing up, especially first thing in the morning.

Treatment for hip OA can include stretching and strengthening of the muscles surrounding the hip. Ultrasound and hot packs can be used in the short-term management of pain and activity limitations in order to return to exercise and begin therapy quicker. Manual therapy including joint mobilization, soft tissue release and massage all have significant evidence supporting their use to improve function and reduce activity limitations in people with OA.

2017 updated risk factors for osteoarthritis of the hip include, but are not limited to:

  • Decreased hip internal rotation and flexion range of motion
  • Morning stiffness
  • Male sex
  • Higher BMI
  • Hip pain
  • Age over 50

Hip Internal Rotation : range of motion becomes limited


Hip Flexion also becomes restricted and painful


We’re here to help. In many cases, a prescription of manual therapy to improve hip range of motion, as well as an individualized exercise program can help to prolong or prevent joint replacement surgery.

Treatment recommendations include:

  • Ultrasound for short-term pain reduction
  • Flexibility, strengthening and endurance exercises
  • Manual therapy for joint mobility, flexibility and pain
  • Education on activity modification, exercise, supporting weight reduction when overweight, and methods of unloading arthritic joints.

Recent evidence suggests that NSAIDs (such as Aspirin and ibuprofen), COX-2 inhibitors, and steroid injections are effective at relieving pain and symptoms in hip OA. However, there is some evidence that suggests NSAIDs may increase the progression of hip OA my decreasing glycosaminoglycan synthesis. In addition, there can be serious gastrointestinal side effects associated with NSAID use. Consult your physician before use.

What can you do at home?

Below is a video with a few stretches recommended to improve hip mobility. This is not an exhaustive list but rather a starting point and something to try. It is always recommended that you see a physical therapist to individualize your treatment approach.

The information provided is not medical advice. If you would like more information please visit us at or call to schedule an appointment. 

Achilles Tendon Tears: Are you at Risk?

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, but unfortunately the aging tendon undergoes various changes that put it at risk for injury. Some changes that increase with age include decreased collagen density, decreased glycosaminoglycans and water content, decreased tensil strength and increased stiffness.

A study of 891 ruptured tendons in humans revealed 97% of the changes were degenerative in nature and about 50% of them were Achilles tendons.

How can you keep your Achilles tendons healthy?

Know your risk factors associated with Achilles tendon disorders and schedule an appointment for a physical therapy evaluation to determine the likelihood of your developing an Achilles tendon disorder and to learn research proven treatment strategies to help strengthen and avoid surgical repair.

Risk factors include:
-abnormal dorsiflexion (increased or decreased ability to flex foot)
-abnormal subtalar range of motion (increased or decrease foot joint mobility- pronation or supination)
-decreased plantar flexion strength
-abnormal tendon structure
-medical conditions associated with Achilles tendon disorders: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol

Studies have shown and proven that eccentric exercises with a focus on slow and controlled movement is an extremely effective nonsurgical method to treating Achilles tendonitis/tendonosis. Below are some helpful exercises for anyone dealing with symptoms or has been diagnosed with this very common injury.

Eccentric Heel Drop on Step: (Achilles Tendon Strengthening)
Begin this exercise with both feet in a neutral position with only the forefoot on the step
Perform a toe raise with both feet
Remove the unaffected leg from the step and slowly lower the affected back to neutral, keeping knee straight
Perform 3 x 15 repetitions twice a day. This is maintained every day for 12 weeks.
As soon as 2 x 15 repetitions twice a day can be done pain free, the load should be increased.
Progression:  Loaded Eccentric Heel Drop on Step–now add weighted dumbells to increase difficulty and to build strength

Coaches Injury Prevention Workshop

Join Megan Morgan, DPT, orthopedic and pediatric specialist, for a complementary workshop and learn the following:

• How to train proper biomechanics of the lower extremity to reduce ligament injuries
• How to incorporate a sport specific dynamic warm-up
• How to add a simple strengthening and plyometric exercises into each practice to help build strength, flexibility and proprioception
• When is it time to refer your player to seek further intervention for their injury?
This complementary workshop is designed for athletics coaches and trainers working with adolescents in sports such as volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis and basketball.

Wednesday August 30th (7:00-7:45pm)

Active Marin Physical Therapy
421 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley

Call 415-388-8166 or email to reserve your spot.
Ask us about private group lessons for your organization!

Travel Guidelines for a Healthy Back


Summer is a time where many people seek relaxation from life’s daily stresses through vacation.  Unfortunately, the journey to a relaxing getaway can be a lot of work, both physically and mentally.  Don’t let your travels cause you pain by following these simple  travel guidelines….


Tips for plane travel:

– Sit with your back against the seat, both feet flat on the floor
– If planning to sleep on the plane; have a good supportive neck pillow.
– When lifting luggage into the overhead, brace your abdiominal mucles and keep your chin tucked inwards to avoid hyper-extension of the neck and back;
-Ask for help if your bag is too heavy (or better yet, think ahead and check it at the gate….)
– When waiting at the airport;  stand up and walk around to get some movement.
– To reduce potential blood clots and joint stiffness, perform leg circulation exercises throughout the flight (i.e, Pump ankles by pointing/flexing foot, heel raises seated or standing, calf stretches, bend and straighten knees)
– Choose the aisle seat if possible and get up and walk when allowed

Tips for Traveling by Car:
– Sit with your back against the seat, both feet flat on the floor and your head against the head rest.
– Use a lumbar support pillow (as seen in picture) if your car seat does not feel supportive enough.
– Have your seat tilted slightly downward towards your feet to encourage more of a neutral spine alignment.
– Stop for breaks frequently every 1-2 hours if possible.
– On breaks; walk around for a couple mins, and stretch legs (calf stretch, quad stretch).

Myofascial Decompression

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Active Marin Physical Therapy is excited to offer Myofascial Decompression to help patients dramatically improve mobility and reduce muscle tissue tension.  This technique, rooted in Eastern Medicine, uses negative pressure cups coupled with functional movement patterns and Neuromuscular Reeducation.  Myofascial decompression is currently being used by Olympic athletes such as gold medalist Michael Phelps and US men’s gymnast Alex Naddour  for pre and post-workout recovery and detoxification.

What Is Myofascial Decompression?
It is used to decompress adhesions and scar tissue, relax muscles in spasm, decrease trigger point pain, and to reduce inflammation following trauma.  Over time, the treatment can be used to increase muscle endurance, circulation, and lymphatic drainage and to enhance the overall ability to recover from strenuous activity.
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What are the benefits?
1. Decompresses adhesions and scar tissue
2. Helps relax muscles in spasm
3. Stimulates oxygenation and detoxification of blood while promoting a feeling of lightness and relief of pressure
4. Helps separate the various layers of fascia and muscle under skin
5. Increases range of motion and promotes healing in scar tissue and chronic injury sites
6. Increases lymphatic drainage & promotes circulation
7. Enhances the overall ability to recover from strenous activity

What can it treat?
Myofascial Decompression has been shown to be effective for tight and stiff muscles as well as those suffering from back pain, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, IT band pain, rotator cuff injuries, and plantar fascitis.