By far, the most in-demand field of physiotherapy is sports. The most common dream of physiotherapy students is to work with high-level athletes or teams. Sports and Exercise Physiotherapists are involved in the prevention and management of injuries resulting from sports and exercise participation at all ages and all levels of ability. These specialized physiotherapists provide evidence-based advice on safe participation in sports and exercise.
The job is daunting but incredible and special in so many ways. Without a doubt, the stakes are high for these athletes – missing a game or race might have massive implications on their team’s performance, or their career. As a sports physiotherapist, making the wrong decision can lead to further injury or an athlete unnecessarily missing time. A sports physiotherapist is bombarded with a wide range of responsibilities. A few of them are but not limited to –
- Injury Prevention – Sports and exercise physiotherapists assess the risk of injury associated with participation in a specific sport or physical activity. Should the therapist identify any physical aspect of an athlete that might put them at risk, they advise against participating in the sport until official clearance. They are equipped to inform and train athletes, coaches, and other members of the multidisciplinary team in such a way that there is a reduction in the occurrence and recurrence of specific injuries.
- Acute Intervention – Even with harsh training and a rock-solid exercise regime, athletes do get injured and the first responder in case of such an event is the physiotherapist. They use clinical reasoning to formulate their next step and are way ahead when it comes to rehabilitation.
- Rehabilitation – Sports physios are skilled in designing, implementing, evaluating, and modifying evidence-based interventions that allow for a safe return to the athlete’s optimal level of performance in their specific sport or physical activity. With a little bit of patience and skillful clinical reasoning, sports physios are well-equipped to formulate a solid rehab program that benefits the athlete tenfold. After the strenuous rehab, athletes can return to sports only after they meet the discharge criteria set by the physio.
- Performance Enhancement – Sports and exercise physiotherapists contribute to the enhancement of the athlete’s performance through evaluation of the athlete’s physical and performance-related profile and can advise or intervene to optimize performance in a specific sport, within a multidisciplinary team approach.
Since sports physios have such a large responsibility, they are expected to have a few qualities or traits. Some of them are as follows –
- Being professional
- Good personal qualities such as empathy and sympathy
- Being accessible
- Good communication skills
- Have an interest in the athletes that they are working with
- Being open-minded about athletes’ ideas regarding their management and the use of other practitioners
A sports physiotherapist should be patient, and persistent, have a high level of competency, know when to refer, understand the emotional and psychological demands of the sport, and be a good communicator with athletes and coaching staff. It is evident that the role of the physiotherapist within the sphere of international sport, is vast and that the role goes beyond the treatment of injury and rehabilitation, to a much broader role which includes assisting with musculoskeletal maintenance and recovery as well as injury prevention strategies and supportive rehabilitation.
Sports physiotherapy is not all talk. Let us look at some athletes who have returned to sports after menacing injuries.
- Alexander Zverev’s Nightmare at The French Open
Looks devastating, doesn’t it? It was… He suffered the injury in a match against Nadal in the second set tiebreak. Immediately after he twisted his ankle, the physio rushed in and performed the RICE protocol. He was later taken out of court for a personal medical time-out. It was later revealed that he suffered from multiple ligament tears and needed surgery as soon as possible. After his surgery, he underwent extensive physical therapy rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation can be tricky following a ligament reconstruction surgery. A physiotherapist needs to evaluate and re-evaluate the athlete’s condition every single day. He should also use clinical decision-making at the highest level to formulate a good rehab strategy.
Zverev underwent strengthening, balance training, gait training, and a full injury prevention camp. He described the days as ‘very long’ but was happy and content with his therapy. He specifically said in his interview – “The days are very long. You start very early and finish in the evening. We do a lot of exercises, there are always new ones that are added permanently. The foot is treated, mobility is worked out, and strength and stability are rebuilt. In some cases, normal walking and running are re-learned. I do sprint exercises in the water, training sessions on the treadmill and bicycle.”
After his rehab since May, he returned to the Australian Open and had success in the first round, where he defeated Juan Pablo in five sets.
- Dominic Thiem’s Upset at Mallorca
Dominic Thiem’s talent set him at the top ten until his injury that is. In June 2021, he was scheduled to play Adrian Mannarino at the Mallorca open where he was up 5-2, in the first set.
Later on, as the match progressed, he suffered from a wrist injury, specifically, the detachment of the posterior sheath of the ulnar side of the right wrist. This is a widespread injury among high-level tennis players, but this was severe. He wore a splint for a couple of weeks and started a strengthening regime for his wrist. With the help of rehab and conditioning, he returned to play in march 2022 but unfortunately was unable to win for months. He later gained success in July when he reached the quarter-final of the Swedish Open.
- Dominick Cruz’s Injury Streak
MMA is a gruesome sport and the UFC is not a forgiving place. With an athlete as talented as Dominick Cruz, it’s a shame that he was out of the sports zone for years in his prime. His bad luck started in 2010 when he broke his arm against his opponent Joseph Benavidez. But that injury didn’t keep him out long. The career-altering injury he sustained was a complete ACL tear in 2012.
Unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful as his body did not accept the foreign graft. He underwent surgery again and was out of the octagon for almost three years. After extensive ACL rehab, he was able to return in 2014 and came back with a win against Mizugaki. But this was not all. His success after his injury was immense, but the story doesn’t end here. He tore his other ACL and now was out of the octagon again. His reconstruction surgery was a success and he was aiming to return as soon as possible. He stated that physiotherapy helped him a lot during his recovery and journey. He specifically told the media that he strictly followed what his therapist told him and did only what he was allowed to do during the time of rehab. He understood the importance of rehab and he also mentioned that it is very vital to choose a good rehab center with skilled sports physios. He later won the UFC Bantamweight title in 2016 against TJ Dillashaw.
Sports physiotherapy is one of those fields which provide an individual with a massive amount of satisfaction to an individual. The reason being, he/she is needed, is a mandate in the field of athletics and sports. Without a sports physio, it becomes tough for an athlete to prevent injury, and as a result, the majority of their hard work may go to waste. Sports physiotherapy provides an athlete with larger chances to return to sports after an injury in a safer way, which in turn prolongs the athlete’s career. This is the reason physiotherapy can be an athletes saving grace.