Re-building Athletes From The Ground Up
The first glance, the title of this blog may lead you to believe that I am talking about the importance of building foot strength and the arch of the foot AKA the “core of the foot.” While I do agree that as physical therapists, we need to teach our athletes how to create stability in their foot as they activate the entire kinetic chain above. I also believe we need to look at our athletes through a wider lens.
What? A wider lens? What does that even mean?
What I want to talk about is treating an athlete as a person and not defining them as a “knee injury” or based on their most recent race performance. If we truly mean to help our athletes return to sport as strong and stable as possible, we need to see that athletes are so much more than their sport. As clinicians we need to recognize how the importance this small shift in perspective can make or break an athlete’s career or their ability to function in their daily life. How can you get someone better if you don’t hear them or see them for who they really are underneath all the layers of what they do?
When I lost my sport, I was a disaster. I didn’t know what to eat, or wear and I felt completely isolated. All my friends were athletes and I no longer had my social group to talk to. On top of that, I was unable access to the one thing I used to relieve stress - running. I looked fine but my world was crumbling down around me.
My diagnosis was rare and because of this, things kept getting missed. I felt angry, scared and frustrated that no one could give me answers. I sat in crowded, fluorescent light filled waiting rooms full of “sick” people and I didn’t feel sick. I was told I couldn’t run or train with my friends. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt lost.
I saw what it was like to be written off by many healthcare providers when I was told that I need to “just stop running,” as if being an athlete was something that I could just simply turn off. It is part of my DNA.
When an athlete becomes injured, as clinicians, we need to be on their side. How many times have you caught yourself saying “Runners are crazy, they just don’t know when to stop?” If this is your stance you will not help anyone. The “crazy” comes when a person feels out of control and has lost their athletic identity. This is not a time for us to judge or be right.
We don’t need to be right. We need to help.
We don’t need to let our ego get in the way. We need to listen and empathize.
If we can’t help, we don’t dismiss them. We help them find someone who can help.
One way of seeing an athlete through a wider lens means LISTENING to their story without cutting them off or assuming you know what they will say next. Then ask the right questions. These questions will vary depending on their sport but getting to the bottom of what was happening during their life at the time of their injury will be a huge window into how they will heal and what will motivate them to get well.
Sports specific questions like the ones below, are important to understand how they are using their body and what stresses are occurring:
“Have you ever had a bike fit? Run gait analysis? Swim analysis?
“How old are your shoes?”
“What does your training schedule look like? Do you have any days off?”
“What is your target race this year?”
Questions about their life will help you be more effective as you treat through a wider lens:
“When did you get inured? Was it in training? During a race? A stressful time in your life?”
“How is this injury impacting your personal life?”
“What other outlets do you have besides _______?”
“Are you sleeping well? How much?”
“Are you still spending time with your friends you train with?”
“What do you do outside of your sport?”
Next time you are treating an injured athlete don’t get stuck like I used to or like --like so many of the providers I’d encountered as the patient. Don’t just get fixated and focused on fixing the physical body and performance characteristics of the athlete, or you may miss the deeper, less tangible human elements hiding within the athlete.