5 things Olympians can teach us about managing injuries
When it comes to managing injuries there are many lessons we can learn from how the best physical performers, elite athletes, manage theirs.
Here’s three top learnings that if applied will help you go from in pain and injured, back to your physical best in the quickest and most complete manner:
1. Get it imaged
When an elite athlete injures themselves there is no ‘guesswork’ by the caring health care providers in the athlete’s corner. There is no let’s start treatment and see how we go. Rather the astute and often very high level health care providers, for example physiotherapists will organise the first available quality imaging to be performed on the athlete’s injured area. Often this image will be an MRI study, due to its gold standard detail of the body, combined with no radiation from an MRI scan. I have heard of athletes being scanned at all hours of the day to ensure an accurate diagnosis is made. Of course the image findings then need to be correlated with the athlete’s reporting of what happened-as the MRI may evidence structural pathology unrelated to the athlete’s injury at hand.
An accurate diagnosis is crucial as it allows for an accurate prognosis. The prognosis is what the injured athlete can expect. That is estimations of time to recovery, return to play, or competition, and appropriate return to training loads can be prescribed and followed.
Interestingly even outside of the elite sporting environment at POGO our physiotherapy team treat by the premise that ‘diagnosis determines prognosis’. Often times between the first and second Discover Recover Sessions we will organise imaging in order to both clarify diagnosis, and also determine time frames for recovery based on the ‘quantification’ or ‘degree’ of structural injury sustained by our clients. We have found that this commitment to getting an accurate diagnosis is appreciated by our clients. An accurate diagnosis allows for a more direct pathway to the client’s Physio Finish Line; with less cost, frustration, and time sitting on the side-lines.
Since launching our Finish Line programs we take the guesswork out of diagnosing our client’s injuries accurately through our industry first Discover Recover Sessions: two one-hour initial consultations. Click HERE>> to learn more.
2. Get the treatment that is needed for best recovery and not what treatment can be afforded
If an elite athlete is injured it is not uncommon for the athlete to receive treatment as frequently as twice per day from the medical team, including physiotherapists. For Olympic sports this care may be provided by practitioners employed within athlete hubs such as the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). Alternately for team sports such as football, AFL, or rugby league, this care would come from the full time employed team physiotherapist(s), working exclusively for the club. When it comes to getting athletes back on track the best treatment regime is recommended and followed. The results being that the athlete makes a speedy and complete return to pre-injury physical performance, allowing them to perform at their physical best with no limitation.
One of my frustrations as a private practitioner having worked alongside elite athletes in various environments, is that in the majority of instances clients of private practices have to settle for the ‘treatment they can afford’ as opposed to the treatment they would truly benefit from if it was prescribed. Even more frustrating is when a practitioner offers a client in need a ‘watered down’ recommendation for treatment based on the practitioner’s perception of what may be manageable for the client to attend. This perception may be based on what the client ‘can afford’ (how would the therapist even know!), or what they think the client may be able to fit in. Either way, a fee paying client in private practice deserves the best recommendations, and not ones potentially made on finances or time constraints: real or perceived.
Since the launch of our Finish Line programs (Click HERE>> to read more) we can now offer our clients ‘elite level physiotherapy’ by removing the barrier to getting the best treatment required, as opposed to treatment that can be afforded. We have done this through our fixed-fee unlimited access Finish Line physiotherapy programs.
3. There is an Emotional Side to Injury
Watch any athlete when they sustain an injury and there will normally be tears. Likewise, if you watch an athlete front a press conference or speak to the media about missing an important sporting fixture due to injury, and their emotions are often hard to conceal. While we expect that elite athletes missing key events or competitions due to injury to elicit emotions, we often fail to join the dots that when we sustain an injury we can also experience similar emotions.
I am often heard speaking with physio clients about the fact that we are not just treating the pain of the injury from the physical body. Many times that greater ‘treatment’ is actually psychological. That is through physiotherapy we are:
- helping to ease the client’s anxieties about what their injury may mean for their future-both short term and long term
- helping to reduce fear-both real and perceived about what ‘is wrong’ and also what this will mean for their future (work, recreation, and family)
- and, reducing frustration associated with being physically ‘side-lined’ and unable to do the physical things the client loves to do in life, and often-times the frustration of not knowing what is actually wrong (the diagnosis), and also what to expect (the prognosis).
4. Trust Your Practitioner(s)
Elite athletes (including Olympians) typically work very closely with their medical team including their physiotherapist. Working closely with their physiotherapist and other medical team practitioners results in high levels of trust being established between the athlete and the practitioner. An athlete will often work with a therapist for their career or at least for years leading into a major event, such as the Olympic Games. A big part of the the trust that ensues is the time spent and proximity between the two parties as they work towards a common goal: the athlete’s physical best performance at a designated event.
One of the differences between the therapeutic relationship of a practitioner and their client is that they may not work together continuously for a sustained period. Often times the client meets the practitioner for the first time at their first appointment. From this appointment onwards the client will get their best results if trust can quickly be established. For the client to trust their physiotherapist they need to sense that the physiotherapist has credibility and is well-versed in solving the problem that the client wants solved. For this to happen the physiotherapist needs to quickly demonstrate competence and skill.
One of the things I have observed reduce the amount of trust that can initially develop between client and therapist is limited contact time over the first few weeks of working together. Often times a client may consult with their physiotherapist on several occasions (e.g. 2-4 times) at best over a two week period. This is in contrast to the athlete who may be on their therapist’s table daily, or even twice per day-working towards the quickest but also best therapeutic outcome.
Interestingly through our fixed-fee unlimited access Finish Line programs we have created a model of care where clients on a 2, 6, or 12 week Finish Line program can get access to their therapist as often as they need (even if that is daily) with no further financial outlay.
In addition I believe that short initial and subsequent consultations in physiotherapy reduce the trust that can be developed between client and practitioner. When our practice was formerly part of a national franchise and trading as (Back In Motion Mermaid Waters) we were required to deliver initial consultation in 40 minutes, and standard consultations in 20 minutes. This was an era of practice life that I found very difficult, trying to get clients treated to best practice standards with such time constraints. Fast forward to our practice being clear of such constraints and we have intentionally created a physiotherapy model where initial appointments can be up to 2 hours long, spread across two one hour initial consultations, that we term Discover Recover Sessions. Click HERE>> to learn more about our Discover Recover Sessions.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
When trust between client and practitioner exists communication flows. I have long held the belief that communication is both the cause and solution for every problem. In a therapeutic relationship it is critical that client’s ask their therapist the questions that they need answers for. Not asking key questions will serve to lessen the trust that can de developed, and therefore the results that can potentially be attained.
Over ten years of clinical practice I have observed that one of the main reasons client’ don’t ask the tough questions is often through not wanting to appear ‘rude’ or potentially ‘hurt’ the therapist’s feelings. For example the client may wish to express that they are disappointed with their progress, and ask ‘why am I not better yet?’ or question why their progress is slower than what they expected.
I coach our POGO physiotherapy team to create an environment where client’s feel like they can any question. Rather than risk the critical questions going unasked, and unanswered, POGO physiotherapists will ask ‘are you happy with your progress’?
The reality however is that the tough questions when asked deepen trust in the relationship, as opposed to detracting from it.
If you are on a journey from injury back to your physical best I hope you take something away from the above insights into how Olympians approach managing their injury rehabilitation. All the best on your return back from injury. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.
All the best on your return back from injury.
Any questions or comments please leave them below.
Brad Beer (APAM)
Physiotherapist, Author You CAN Run Pain Free!, Founder POGO Physio