Guest blogs are a bit like buses… You can wait six weeks for one, then two turn up together. Today's guest blog is from a good friend of 'The Sports Physio' Tom Goom aka 'The Running Physio'. Now as much as I think Tom is a legend in his own right, in his blog Tom talks about another legend and a personal hero of mine from Arsenal FC, I wont spoil the surprise instead I will let Tom take it away…
Today's Arsenal SEMS Conference started with a surprise speaker. The room hushed and he had everyone's attention in a split second. But this speaker wasn't one of the multi-published, hugely impressive lecturers on the bill. He didn't hone his skills in the clinic or the lab but on the football pitch. Despite this his insights were as valuable as any paper but then, could you expect anything less than excellence from Thierry Henry?!..
Dr Gary O'Driscoll, Arsenal's head doctor, skillfully interviewed the Arsenal legend and his answers highlight some key issues working in elite sport. Apologies if I paraphrase Thierry's answers a little I couldn't write them down quickly enough!…
Pain may be part of the Process
A hugely revealing comment from Thierry was, “most of the time I was in pain.“ I was surprised to hear an elite player, so capable with a football, spent much of his career playing through pain. Later in the day England Rugby Team Doctor Nigel Jones highlighted a similar issue, “all of our players play with an injury.”
The training loads and demands of competition at the highest level make pain and injury a likely consequence. The question is, as highlighted by Nigel Jones, is the pain sufficient to prevent play? Our role as physios is to help manage this pain and help the patient understand it. Appropriate loading and adequate recovery are key. Thierry commented on this, “rest is very important…don't underestimate sleeping for recovery.” Evidence suggests sleep is essential for performance, healing and pain.
Magic or Mental?
Thierry also made a point I'm sure Adam will enjoy, “I don't believe in magic. I think you need to do everything you can in order to perform.” A point further emphasised by the excellent Karim Khan who warned against giving in to quick fixes that, in reality, fix very little!
Achilles issues troubled Thierry from around 2004 until the end of his career. Their effect was more than just physical. It left him unsure whether he'd be able to perform and concerned he'd be unable to help his teammates. He conceded, “The mental part is huge” and admitted to worrying about how it might affect him after his football career. We can't underestimate the psychological load elite sport places on an athlete and how this increases when struggling with an injury. Even the very best will worry and ask 'what if?'. We need to consider the psychological impact and foster a positive perception of return to sport with the athlete in charge. Clare Ardern's excellent work show's how important this is for return to play after injury.
Thierry's final point highlights how the patient should be central to everything and must take responsibility, “A player needs to take care of himself… I was on a mission to make sure I could perform for the team.” We need to support an athlete's autonomy, educate and empower them to make informed choices. Ultimately though the athlete needs to be in the driving seat.
As a lifelong Arsenal fan is was an inspiring and illuminating interview and it demonstrates just how important it is that we listen to our patients. They don't have to be footballing legends to teach us a thing or two!