When someone says the word physio to me I usually get flashbacks to the time I had whiplash and had to sit in my doctor’s surgery being prodded in the neck week after week by a nice lady who reassured me that I definitely would be able to turn to the right again one day with her help. As a result I had this view of the work of a physiotherapist as being a bit boring and not particularly varied (the prodding lasted for a good view weeks and whilst it did work, it certainly wasn’t the most exciting half an hour of my day). That was until we started working on articles on physiotherapy here at Hotcourses and I suddenly discovered just how interesting and complex it actually is.
Physiotherapy is not all prodding people with neck injuries and dealing with the back problems of the elderly. It’s helping people who have suffered illness get back to 100%; it’s aiding disabled people to carry out everyday tasks themselves in spite of not being able bodied; it’s ensuring sportspeople function as best they can on the pitch. I even discovered you can do physiotherapy in water and that acupuncture can be part of treatment. With this in mind, the scope of potential experts we could interview widened, and when Simon Wallace, physio at Sale Sharks Rugby team, agreed to chat to me I couldn’t wait to find out more about what it’s like to work with sportspeople on injuries, rehabilitation and trying to explain the names of things in Latin...
So first, can you tell us a bit about what you do as physiotherapist of a rugby team?
I’m a physio with Sale Sharks Rugby team. They are a professional rugby team and I work in a team of four full time physios and a part time doctor. So we look after injury prevention for all the players as well as rehabilitation of the injured players. We also have a role in optimising performance through the implementation of mobility programmes and things like that.
I studied physiotherapy at Manchester Metropolitan University before I completed a physiology and health science course in Ireland. After finishing university, I worked in Liverpool for a year in Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, working with people after cardiac surgery and people with long term illness, so it was very different to anything I currently do.
I initially looked into physio as a career because I have a strong interest in sport and knew I wanted to work with people. Although the majority of physio is usually not done with sports people, the job interested me. So when a job came up which involved me working in sport, it was ideal for me really. Although I have never played rugby, I play a lot of hurling – it’s an Irish sport – and I suppose that has helped me with my career.
So how different is working in physiotherapy in a sports context compared to with the NHS? You must have to deal with lots of highly paid players – do you get many divas?
It is such a different environment. The majority of people I worked with previously were extremely ill and it was a matter of trying to get them back walking, some of them back breathing, without support. In a sporting environment, you are working to try to get people to function at the best of their ability.
Luckily in rugby there doesn’t seem to be many divas. It’s actually quite a good group to work with as they’re all highly motivated and hard working.
Do you find one or the other more satisfying? It must be quite rewarding in both cases to see your work take effect?
Yeah, both have their own different rewards. In the first job, there were occasions when you would treat someone for weeks when they are intubated and unable to talk to you and so to see them progress and start to walk and talk again is cool. But I think I can relate to the rugby players a bit better. It’s more fun really, and I just find the job more challenging. The set hours of the NHS were nice though!
Do you not work set hours now then? How does it work with the rugby team?
Well they will change on a weekly basis depending on the match and training schedule. Also depending on how many injuries we have. The hours are just a bit more unsociable, I suppose.
So what would you say is the best part of your job?
The best is probably the experience you gain and also the environment. It’s good craic being around a sports team and it sometimes makes it feel like it’s not work. When you have a squad of 50 lads, mainly in their 20s, someone is always up to something!
What’s the most challenging?
Ah it’s the schedule. I can only take holidays at certain times and it is a little unsociable. I work lots of weekends and evenings so it’s quite hard to plan things in advance.
Does it get stressful when you have to deal with bad injuries?
I have only been working in sport physio about eight months now so I haven’t come across anything too bad. For me it’s probably not as stressful as it for the head physio. I don’t do pitch side for the first team, just the second team and the academy, so the crowds are not as big with them and it’s more about player development than results, so there isn’t the same rush to get the players back from injury quickly.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had to deal with?
I have had a suspected cervical spine injury at an under 16s game before so that meant having to spinal board the player and keep him immobilised until the ambulance came but thankfully he was ok. It was probably more stressful for the parents who were watching the game than me though really. The worst I have had to deal with so far is probably a cruciat rupture with a cartilage tear. (that’s a really bad knee injury to you and me!)
What’s the most common?
Probably an ankle inversion injury causing an aftl injury – or ankle sprain in English.
I was wondering what that meant! Is there a lot of physio jargon then?
Yep, everything is in Latin!
Sounds like hard work! So being a physio, do all your friends come to you with their problems?
Yep! I don’t mind it though. If I want to get rid of them I can just go overboard on the physio jargon and they won’t bother asking again!
Fair enough! Ok, well the next question is a bit of a weird one but I need to end an argument... There’s been a bit of debate on our desk about stretching – some say do it before exercising, some say after, some say don’t do it at all – what’s the official line on this?
Well, regular stretching is good. However, stretching for more than three to four seconds directly before sport can decrease power output so before games it’s better to keep it short. But you should hold every stretch after exercising for at least 30 seconds.
Thanks for settling that! Lastly, what advice do you have for people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I suppose just work hard and be enthusiastic and friendly. A lot of getting into sport is personality and networking!
If you fancy working as a physio, there are a number of courses you can take to get you started.