Sports Therapists in Football
All sports present their own challenges and place different demands on the body, so sport-specific training and conditioning is key to performing well and staying injury free. When our Kieran isn’t at Active Potential Therapy, he works with Wiltshire Academy Football Club. Here he gives us the low down on what’s involved in keeping their athletes in tip-top condition…
Preparation and Conditioning
Footballers are subjected to short bursts of intense activity and high impact forces at irregular rates. This makes how they prepare for competition very difficult, but very important to conditioning them for performance and reducing their risk of injury. As the team therapist, it is my job to minimise that risk before each game and training session.
If the demands during the game are sport-specific, the preparation should be too. Conditioning should be based around interval training, rather than endured periods of cardio, to mimic the patterns of a football match. For example, quick changes of pace, direction and stance as well as mimicking techniques such as landing jumps. Stretches should be dynamic to activate muscle fibres and again to mimic common movements where possible.
If you have ever worked as a therapist pitch-side or played in a team sport with a pitch-side therapist or injury specialist, you will be familiar with the joys of ‘healing water’ and the ‘magic sponge’, along with rushed 15-second assessments and dodgy tape jobs. Thankfully things have now moved on and the key is knowledge and preparation. If you know the common injuries and mechanics, you can make decisions and treat them efficiently in the limited time you have.
The first step is to think about how the situation occurred. Contact or non-contact? Twisting, landing or sprinting? From this you can derive the nature of the injury, which gives you a head start in your assessment and decides your initial approach. Good judgement and swiftness of action is key to both the player and the team.
Recovery ideally begins immediately after activity, when the body is most compliant. The three steps of cooling down, stretching and hydrating are vital for kick-starting the road to recovery and are usually the responsibility of the therapist or coach. Though how the players prepare and recover before and after can be out of the therapist’s hands. My tip is to design a poster for all players to follow pre- and post-training/competition. Ours simply reads:
Pre-competition/training – 2-4 hours before competition, consume 500ml of fluid with final pre-match meal. Within 1 hour before, consume 125-500ml of fluid.
Post-competition/training – consume 500ml of fluid immediately after. Cool down and stretching to follow. Evening tip: hydration, sustenance, rest and ice.
Following these guidelines will give the athletes a head start in recovering efficiently and allow them to be at their optimum physical level for their next performance.
The relevance of the term ‘sports specific’ cannot be underestimated when it comes to rehabilitation from football injuries. For me, the rehabilitation (although varying initially in intensity and length depending on nature/severity of injury) should always mimic the preparation and conditioning.
Taking a footballer recovering from a severe ankle sprain as an example; even when they have had treatment and can now run on the ankle pain free, they are not necessarily ready to return to playing. Once range of motion and weight bearing have been achieved, weight bearing at pace must be tested, followed by changes of direction, landing technique and performance using a football. Only then should contact and competition be introduced to truly test the athlete’s readiness to return.