I have just read this interview with Paula Radcliffe’s physical therapist, and to put it mildly I am shocked at what he describes as his usual care and routine daily ‘treatment’ of this phenomenally talented, truly dedicated, hard working elite athlete.
In the interview Paula’s ‘physio’, and I use the term ‘physio’ carefully here as really this is only allowed to be used by those suitably qualified, and I am informed he is not actually a qualified physiotherapist. In fact I have been reliably informed that his only offical qualification is one he obtained in the USA in the early 90s in soft tissue massage. This means he has no other qualifications that allow him to assess, diagnose or treat musculoskeletal injuries. So it does surprise me to see him doing just this with Paula in this in his interview, but thanks to a legal loop hole in Ireland where he works he can can call himself a physical therapist.
Anyway, thats beside the point, my main issue is what he goes on in this interview to describe as a daily routine of hours and hours of hard, aggressive, soft tissue massage on Paula that she apparently asks for and needs. He talks about realigning her joints and bones, fixing and correcting muscle imbalances and imperfections, and a pre race routine of acupuncture and joint adjustments that would make the Spanish Inquisition proud, he goes on to explain how this is “no stress for me, and no stress for the athlete”
As I read this article I feel my jaw opening wider and wider, not just at the shear amount of over unnecessary over treatment and out dated, incorrect clinical thinking and reasoning he displays, but more imprtantly I keep thinking how this therapist has probably, without even knowing it, adversely affected this awesome, talented, incredibly passionate, dedicated and hard working athlete he has the honour and privilege to work with.
How has he adversely affected her you may be thinking? Through implanting and infecting her thoughts and beliefs with outdated biomechanical reasoning and pseudo scientific advice, and by reinforcing a reliance on painful manual therapy, and negatively influencing her with over treatments.
Its such a shame, such a waste, such a tragedy that a therapist like this has probably adversely affected a top level athletes performance. In my expereince therapists treating like this end up instilling negative attitudes in an athletes, causing a lack in self belief and a notion of fragility and vulnerability, reinforcing doubt, uncertainty in their ability and performance, and this can follow them around for life.
I see and hear this a lot in many elite sports, and it seems the more elite the sport, the more often I see and hear it, and the more elite the sport the more extreme these beliefs and rituals seem to get.
For example I have seen first hand professional athletes think that they need this part of their body rubbed, pulled, poked, cracked, taped, needled before a game or competition, and if they don’t then it will in some way adversely affect their performance.
This is simply not a good place for anyone to be mentally, let alone a professional high performing athlete, and its about time it stops, and it needs to be the therapists and medical staff/teams that need to to change, not the atheltes, its not their fault.
If you want proof that its the therapists and medical teams that create this unique situation, then consider why this behaviour doesnt occur in amateur sports when there often is no therapist or medical staff.
You never see or hear of anyone who plays weekend amateur sports needing a 45 minute pre match rub, or tape applied anywhere or everywhere, or some joints to be ‘realigned’. Can you imaging Dave having this kind of treatment before a Sunday league footie match, if he did he would get laughed out of the dressing room by his team mates and told to ‘f**k off Dave you muppet’, yet in professional sport it’s seen as ‘normal’ behaviour… It’s not!!!
Now many argue that its different in professional sport, the demands on the body are higher, the recovery times shorter and so the risk of injury is higher. And I agree, sort off, but this is not an excuse for over treatment or reinforcing beliefs of fragility or higher risks of injury.
Most of these ‘pre comp’ routines and injury preventative rituals that infiltrate elite sports are complete and utter nonsense, and formed on nothing more than either superstition, out dated thinking or some misunderstanding or miscommunication that an athlete has picked up from somewhere or someone.
This needs to be addressed and re-educated, not encouraged, ignored or glossed over. Yes it needs to be approached carefully, tactfully and sensibly, not like a bull in a china shop that I am often guilty off. But the excuse that “if it helps them then where is the harm” is also not an excuse, the harm comes from reinforcing a sense of dependance and fragility on bullshit treatments and therapists.
All healthcare professionals need to be aware of an athlete (or any of their patients) passing control of their performance over to someone or something else. Instead they should be comfortable, confident and assured that they alone are in control of their own outcome.
Yes healthcare professionals are there to assit and help athletes, but their primary responsibility is to instill a sense of robustness, toughness, and strength, both mentally and physcially with all they they work with.
Simply put therapists should try to make everyone they work with feel strong, robust, invincible, impregnable, indestructible, basically like f**king superheroes, whether that’s helping them run a marathon, or just climb a flight of stairs.
So physios, lets get our acts together, and make these amazing people we have the privilege to work with feel unstoppable, unbreakable, and downright awesome.
Make them feel in control of their own performance.
Make them feel in control of their own future.
Make them believe in themselves, not in you!