Physiotherapy and the Athlete: Part 1

Physiotherapy is often seen as a treatment that is necessary for people that encounter injury. However, it can also be a key element to preventing injury, improving performance, and extending an athlete’s career. In this series of posts, we ask our physiotherapists about their experience and perspective on the role of physiotherapy in sport. 

For part one in this series, we’ve asked our physiotherapist Gretchen McLennan for her thoughts and expertise. Gretchen has over 14 years of experience as a physiotherapist and has a keen interest in sports rehabilitation. She is also a former national team athlete.

How can physiotherapy prevent injuries that athletes often experience ?

PT can help prevent injury in athletes by:

1. Screening the athlete (usually in the off season or preseason) for potential issues like joint restrictions, muscle imbalances or bio-mechanical faults for the particular sport the athlete is involved in.

2. Addressing the relevant issues prior to an increase in training load or volume.

In what ways can physiotherapy improve an athlete’s performance? Can it lengthen their career?

PT can also improve an athletes performance by not only focusing on a single problem area, but by treating the athlete as a whole and thereby maximizing an athletes potential. Identifying weak links in the chain can not only prevent injury and maximize performance, but an added benefit is that it will help prevent wear and tear on the body over time. Considering many sports create imbalances in the body depending on the demands of the sport, regular physiotherapy visits can lengthen an athletes career.

Can you provide an example of where you were able help an athlete bounce back from a sports related injury?

Photo: David Cooper | Ballet BC

Photo: David Cooper | Ballet BC

I've had the distinct pleasure of working with many athletes over the years, but one example stands out for me. One of BC's prima ballerinas (Simone Orlando) suffered a tragic hip injury from a fall while practicing a lift. It could have ended her career right then. However, through grit, determination, surgery and countless hours working in the clinic, she was able to dance her final season with Ballet BC. It was a unique challenge. We had to work with the multiple changes that were happening to her body due to the injury as well as adapt what needed to be done for the demands of a professional ballet dancer.

This is just one of the reasons I love my job as a physiotherapist. To be able to source out what and where something might not be working, fix the issue and have that person functioning at or even above expectation.

Our goal for this series is to raise awareness that the role of physiotherapy is not exclusively for post injury treatment. It can also be utilized by athletes to boost their performance, prevent injury, and potentially extend their career. 

Look out for our next instalment in this series where we interview our physiotherapist Jon Bell. He also has a particular interest in sports related physiotherapy and has worked on the medical teams for the CrossFit Games and the Canadian National Men’s Rugby team.