Let’s Get Physio

Ahead of our new exhibition focussing on sports injury ‘On the Bench’, we spoke to physiotherapist Andy Barker and asked some questions on how we treat, prevent and rehabilitate sports injuries as well as an interesting fact about our kneecaps!

What’s the most common injury that people get from playing sports?

Statistically, the most common injury is to the ankle for most sports, particularly sports that involve any change of direction, the likes of football, rugby and netball. That’s the most common injury across all sports.

Similarly, what sport presents the most injuries?

In terms of more board injuries across the body, any sports that involve contact, rugby would be a good example, where you’re going to get injuries from head to toe. Anything from skull fractures and facial injuries to injuries of the big toe and pretty much every bone, ligament, tendon and joint in between those two areas! Some sports tend to be more localised. If you use a running-based sport like football, you typically wouldn’t see any upper limb injuries or head injuries as you would with a sport like rugby. Typically, injuries in sports like football would be the lower back and lower limb.

What are some of the ways you treat a sports injury?

In terms of rehab, most injuries will follow the same sort of rehab journey where you typically try to restore joints and full range of motion to get movement back in that area. Then you would get the injured tissue, joint, muscle, tendon – whatever might be injured, and to start to load using low intensity exercises. From then, it would depend on the level of sport/intensity that you’re trying to get an athlete back to as the end stage rehabs are going to differ depending on the sport and individual. Typically we might use a lot of hands on work early in the rehab process which might help to dampen down pain e.g massage-style of therapy. As rehab goes on, exercise based therapy is going to be our main tool to help people get back to full fitness.

What are steps you can take to avoid a sports injury?

Evidence wise, we know that the main things that cause sports injury are age, so the older you are, the more likely you are to get injured. Past medical history, so again the more times you’ve been injured in the past the more likely you are to be injured in the future. There is some evidence around ankle movement and mobility, so if your ankle movement and flexibility is quite poor, you’re at a high risk of injury. There are more specific injury risks in relation to certain things. For example, there is evidence now around hamstring strength. If your hamstrings are weak, you’re more likely to get injured in running based sports. However age, injury history and ankle movement are the three main factors. Obviously, two we can’t do much about but we can influence ankle and range of movement.

How can we make sure we don’t ‘over do it’?

If you’re thinking about returning from injury, having an appropriate plan that is going to help bridge the gap from injury and back into exercise whatever that may be. There are parameters we typically work with for injuries, so we usually use an increase of around 10-20% as a safe and self evidenced progression. What that might look like for, for example, a runner would be (using volume) if they had a 10k race, the might start off running 1k. Then how we would typically look to increase that would be each session they do, increasing this by 10-20%. If it was 3k total across a week, week two might see them run 3.3-3.6k.

What is a fun fact about our bodies?

The patella, which is the posh name for your kneecap, you don’t actually have until you’re about 6 months old. You’re born without kneecaps. One of my physio friends told me that when he once came to visit after I had my first child which is quite interesting!

What is a common myth about our bodies?

I think the biggest one I see is just regarding how adaptive the body is, a bit like the brain, the physical body (muscle, joints, tendons, ligaments etc) all have the ability to change and to get better. So even if people have had a serious injury, there’s a great chance that with the right plan, they can get back to full fitness, if not be in even better health.

Find out more about ‘On the Bench’ here!