The Paralympian physiotherapist

The thoughts that come to mind when we say “Paralympics” relate to the incredible athletes who are defying the odds and competing in one of the most gruelling challenges of their lives.

But who thinks about the team of people working behind the scenes to keep our athletes safe from injury and helping to give them the competitive edge? These unsung heroes have to be adaptable, multi-disciplined, dedicated, able to work under pressure and prepared to work 24/7. Sound like a job you want? Welcome to the world of the Paralympian physiotherapist.

Go Team SA! So where do I sign up?

Firstly, in order to be a Paralympian physiotherapist, you need to be an expert like our very own Capetonian, Tanya Green, who works at the University of Stellenbosch and who is currently helping out at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Secondly, you won’t get paid. That’s right – all healthcare professionals at the Paralympics are volunteers! The opportunity and experience of participating in such a high profile event is worth more than money can buy. Thirdly, you need to be organised enough to submit your application for consideration more than two years in advance!. And finally, you need to be brave enough to compete with thousands of other organised hopefuls who also submitted their applications for a spot on the team. It’s clear that just making the medical team, alone, deserves a gold medal!

So what exactly does a Paralympian physiotherapist do?

Well, it’s a lot more than just moving limbs around. The physiotherapists, who are part of a whopping 5000 other healthcare professionals, are responsible for ensuring that our athletes perform at their peak and bring home those all-important medals. In fact, the hard graft begins way before the event. “The physios work extensively with the athletes, focusing particularly on improving and enhancing their core stability, mobility and strength. Working with athletes who have various disabilities can be challenging” says a leading Sea Point physiotherapist. (Atlantic Chiropractic Health & Massage, The Point.)

A team effort

The physiotherapists work closely with the various sports coaches to ensure that training programmes are designed in the best interests of the athletes. The harder sportspeople train, the greater their risk of injury, so the physios concentrate on preventing physical harm. Continuity in training is essential as introducing something new at this point could have serious repercussions. (Biodynamics’ Institute; BUC Fitness Club. The Point Mall).

During the games, physiotherapists are responsible for anything the athletes might need that will keep them ready for competition, from sports massage to on-the-field injury evaluation and treatment. Their job is to keep athletes pain-free, improving strength in limbs, and maintaining range in motion. They also work with sports nutritionists to evaluate the athletes’ diet. Together with the other medical professionals, they work around the clock helping the athletes achieve their best possible performance on competition day.

Celebrating physiotherapists

September 8 is World Physiotherapy Day, a happy coincidence as we peek behind the scenes of the Rio Paralympics 2016 and acknowledge and applaud the role that our South African physiotherapists play in supporting our Paralympians. Of course, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from physiotherapy – it is readily available to us all. Help is on hand, and further information is available at The Point. Active | Wellness

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