Rugby Physio – A Survivor’s Guide
Being a physiotherapist for a sports team can be a challenge at the best of times! For the past five seasons I have had the pleasure of working for an historic rugby club which is based in South West London and currently residing in the National 1 league. My role often involves both long away-trips to far flung towns of England and challenges you can only imagine… here’s a little insight!
The first challenge is usually the mass scrum at 7am for prime seating on the bus as far away from the club jokers and snorers as possible.
Once at the club, the priority is the player preparation, all with their own particular techniques for both body and mind. Treatments may include strapping, massage, stretching or manual techniques. Delivering it in right way for that individual is essential in aiding the performance of the team. Some need the release of light banter whilst being treated or strapped, others need quiet and calm assuredness that all is ok. It all needs patience, precision and trust.
Once the game begins I’m constantly watching for player contact, with my eyes not moving from this point until they are all back up and running. Following the ball or game as a whole is not an option as an injury might be missed or a delay in critical first aid attention. It’s more like observing minute episodes of high velocity collisions, bone crunching falls and exaggerated stretching that even Elastigirl would be proud of!
It’s not all about contact. It is also vital to keep a close eye on the sprinters that look like they’ve just tripped or been snipered as this is equally as important to correctly manage quickly.
All of these observation skills are put to the test whilst fighting the delights of the British weather: rain, wind and hail are a normal weekly occurrence with ice therapy usually administered immediately to players through the temperature of my fingers!
When the final whistle blows, and they’ve hopefully secured a win, the tension starts to settle. First step is the group huddle and post-match summary with lots of cheering from the side line.
The next is dealing with the injured parties – this can be from immediate first aid to a massage plinth in the rugby club right through to advice on the return journey home.
Finally, and the flip side of long away trips, is the bus journey home where a local off licence is often drained of its goods and banter bombs are left hanging in wait for those unfortunate enough to fall prey.
I was also lucky enough to be invited back again to the IRB 7s tournament in Dubai last December to physio for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation (CNCF). The very nature of a veteran’s side means that you’re dealing with 35+ year-old bodies that have survived punishing rugby careers and are just on the creaky end of happy. The CNCF team has entered the International Vets 10s tournament for many years but has secured the title for the last 4 years running. The pressure was on for the 5th title and the likes of Wooden Spoon and Gregor Townsend’s Bone Steelers were our biggest threat. We were lucky enough again to have an impressive line up of ex-international players from around the globe such as Henry Paul, Dafydd James, Kingsley Jones, Mike Friday, Fraser Waters and Trevor Leota to name but a few.
My work was cut out for me on all fronts. Firstly, the weather issues were quite the reverse of England, with many of the players battling with heat exhaustion and sunburn rather than windburn and tight chests from the cold. Their older bodies that had perhaps had more rest than play in recent years were de-conditioned. Mentally, they still believed they could perform the same dodges and dives of previous years but physically they didn’t quite bounce back to the same impact and fast muscle actions. Many rub downs and ice packs were applied throughout the tournament. Thankfully, identifying early injuries and strains, and managing them with strapping, support and targeted exercise, meant we had a full team to select from on reaching the final. An achievement that any medical and coaching team would be proud of.
We made easy work of the final and thrashed the Steelers to take home our 5th consecutive title. The celebrations didn’t end there as we watched England romp home to win the IRB Dubai 7s cup for the second year running!
Although at times any rugby physio wishes they’d stayed in bed on a Saturday morning, I still wouldn’t change the whole experience that comes with it. Seeing those injuries happen pitch side also helps give me that edge in managing acute injuries in my day to day clinic.