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What Is Performance Therapy?


What Is Performance Therapy?

Our post this week comes from West London Track and Field Performance Therapist Gareth Degg. Gareth achieved a master of osteopathy degree from the British School of Osteopathy and also has a keen interest in biomechanics and human function. Gareth is trackside on a weekly basis and works with the other therapists and coaches to ensure athlete movement is optimal.

Performance therapy team in action at Lee Valley earlier this year

Performance therapy team in action at Lee Valley earlier this year

As competition season has sprung into action, the role of a therapist will be as equally important as the off-season time. The role of a Performance Therapist is a position that has become more noticed and more popular over the last 5 years. Especially considering the work done at Altis and British Athletics who employ therapists from a number of different professions as performance therapists. People have different views about the responsibilities of performance therapy and the pros and cons of the whole process, but I will only give my opinion in this short article about performance therapy and then more specific competition therapy.

What is Performance Therapy?

The initial role of a therapist, whether that is an Osteopath like myself or any other profession, is to consider the health of the patient. In that respect the role is no different than if you are in a clinic and a member of the general public walks in and seeks treatment for an ailment.

In a sports setting the chances of seeing injuries are quite high and these are what we spend a large portion of our time dealing with, whether that be a hamstring issue or a shoulder complaint for example.

However, everything previously mentioned is what happens in a normal clinic setting and the question of where does ‘performance’ come into the role arises. I feel that Performance Therapy is where you go beyond injury and pain as your measuring tool for success. The responsibility has to shift to you having an appreciation and understanding of the function and movements required in the athletes’ event and knowing what should be happening and what should not. Then you may choose to make a therapy intervention to improve a movement pattern or action, which then theoretically leads to an improvement in performance.

This is why a performance therapist needs to be present at training, competitions and forge a good open relationship with both athlete and coach. All three elements need to be communicating and be on the same page with the same goals in mind.

Head sprints and hurdles coach Laura Turner-Alleyne with Altis head coach Dan Pfaff in Phoenix

Head sprints and hurdles coach Laura Turner-Alleyne with Altis head coach Dan Pfaff in Phoenix

Competition Therapy

On the day of competition it is my belief that the therapy team play a different role to normal training days. On normal training days often the therapy team will spend most of their time with athletes that are either recovering from injury or have some specific issues that need attention. Competition day is all about the athletes that are competing on that day and this is all about maximizing an athlete’s performance; performance therapy in its truest form.

What happens on competition day?

By the time an athlete gets to competition they should be free of injury and fit enough to compete first and foremost. So the focus then is aimed at maximizing their body to its potential. A basic outlook of a competition day for a therapist will be as follows:

-          Set-up and make your athletes and coaches know where you are

-          Find out what time your athletes are competing and what time their call room is.

-          Find out what time athletes plan to start warm-up

-          Plan what athletes you want to assess prior to warm-up

-          Watch warm-up and drills where possible

-          Therapy intervention where indicated

-          Repeat throughout the competition

How is competition different from training?

The stress of competition will affect each athlete differently and sometimes this can become an issue. Due to stress or performance anxiety the athletes mind can play tricks on them and they can present all kinds of symptoms or potential injuries that are often perfectly fine. In this situation your role is to reassure the athlete and give them the confidence to compete.

On the flip side you may have an athlete that is too aroused for the competition and they are “bouncing of the walls” and it may be your responsibility to bring them back down a little before they mentally fatigue themselves before competition.

How much therapy work should be done on competition day?

Simply put, it depends.

There are a few things to consider on the day:

Time – There may only be a 5-minute window during an athlete’s warm-up for a short intervention. It has to be meaningful.

Individual athlete – Some athletes require more attention than others from both a biomechanical point of view and an emotional one.

Goal/aim – Athletes are preparing to compete so the interventions have to be geared towards the end goal.

Our performance therapy team are trackside on a weekly basis

Our performance therapy team are trackside on a weekly basis

Things that I avoid on competition day

Again, this is only my personal opinion and other therapists may do things differently, but there are a number of things I try not to do prior to competing:

Treatment Time – I believe on competition day that therapy interventions should be short, concise and outcome driven. If an athlete is requiring masses of treatment before they are about to compete then the question needs to be asked, “Are they fit enough to compete?”

Treatment type – I personally do little to no massage style soft tissue work prior to competing. I will do soft tissue release work often on the day, but this will not be in the form of the long stroke massage techniques as I feel this will not optimise the muscle for what we are about to ask it to do. Simply put, a massage helps to relax the muscles, creates a parasympathetic response in the body and often gives the body a feeling of rest. This is great post competition to aide recovery and regeneration.

Prior to competition the body needs to be alert, aware, activated and primed for what is about to happen.

That is a brief overview of my feelings towards competition-based therapy. The key point that I need to reinforce is that most importantly you have to have both a sound understanding of the athlete and their chosen event in order to make good choices when deciding whether a therapy intervention is needed and what to do.