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The importance of physiotherapy

For athletes, being fit and healthy and keeping their bodies in tiptop condition is their main focus to ensure they play and perform at their best. Unf...

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|Aug 9|magazine15 min read

For athletes, being fit and healthy and keeping their bodies in tiptop condition is their main focus to ensure they play and perform at their best. Unfortunately, as any professional athlete and sportsperson will tell you, their active lifestyles come with a major occupational hazard; injury. According to Marilyn Okoro, a British Olympic athlete who competes in the 400m and 800m events, “sport and injury go hand-in-hand.” It is for that reason that physiotherapy is such key part of an athlete’s training regime, to help prevent niggles and strains, as one injury can quite literally ruin a sportspersons career.

Injuries are increasing

While injuries are a common risk for athletes, there have been rising incidences of sports related injuries in non-athletes. Taking the UK as an example, a recent One Poll study found there are 22 million sporting injuries suffered every year. This problem is also being seen in athletes. In rugby alone there has been a 20 percent rise in injuries suffered by professional players. Experts believe this increase of injuries in both athletes and non-athletes can be solved from a thorough warm-up routine before exercise and most importantly, regular physiotherapy treatments.

John Miles is the Head physiotherapist for British Rugby League team the Harlequins RL. He says as a physiotherapist, his job is to prevent what is preventable – “Yes, I can treat injuries but I spend most of my time stopping them from happening in the first place.” Miles says he often asks players to go for extra massages to help ward off injuries. “I will say, you are a speedster, so I want you to have extra physio on your hamstring to prevent a problem from occurring.”

Marilyn Okoro

One athlete who knows how devastating an injury can be and equally how important physiotherapy is, is Marilyn Okoro. In 2009 she suffered her first major injury; tendonopathy. With 11 inch tears in both her knees, she said the first thing she thought was, “What am I going to do now?” Okoro’s team of doctors immediately got to work to brainstorm possible treatments and therapies they could use to get her running again. “We tried to avoid surgery at all costs,” she explains. “My physio became really important to me after my injury in rehabbing me back to full fitness.”

Okoro works with Lily Devine, a UKA physiotherapist. “She is the one that hopefully prevents the injuries and when things do occur, she has various techniques she can use to overcome them,” she says. In describing the importance of physiotherapy treatments, Okoro explains: “Phsyio is massive; it is pretty much just as important as training itself. For me, at first it was really an education of how my body works and understanding my sport. I now probably have phsyio twice a week, just to stay on top of everything and to make sure no new niggles appear.”

Occupational hazards

Within the British physiotherapy scene, Sammy Margo is one of the top names as the physiotherapist to the British Football Squad. Although she has a wealth of experience in dealing with athlete’s aches and strains, she has also seen a rise in the number of non-athlete patients coming to her with musculoskeletal problems. Such a rise in sporting injuries can be blamed on the “deadly combination,” as Margo calls it, of sitting at work at a desk all day and following it with a strenuous workout. Moving swiftly from long periods of inactivity to intense exercise leaves people open to potential injury. Experts believe this is particularly the case when people fail to warm-up properly. “10 percent of a workout should be a warm-up,” Margo says. “You should also make sure you are fit and warmed-up for your sport, so if you are a runner, run; if you are doing pilates, do pre-lates to warm-up.”

Musculoskeletal Injuries often have a large economic cost. Thirty-seven percent of One Poll respondents said they had to take time off work due to an injury or strain and in some cases this recovery period lasted longer than a year.

In the UK alone, over 75 percent of people have had to take time off work because of a sports injury. Meanwhile, cases of back pain has doubled in most Westernised nations in the past 40 years. Collectively, hundreds of working days are lost every year due to injuries or chronic pain. Most of these incidences could be solved with a thorough warm-up routine before exercise and regular trips to a physiotherapist, proving it is not just athletes that need to take care of their muscles. Sammy Margo concludes by saying: “You visit the dentist and hygienist to get your teeth checked out, so why not go to a physiotherapist to get your body checked?”

Marilyn Okoro talks about victory at the UK Indoor Championships after injury: