The Role of a Sports Therapist in Professional Football.
I’ve worked in professional football with Millwall FC for four years after a brief spell in semi-professional football as a lead Sports Therapist. Having worked in football, in both the championship and league one I get asked by many people what it’s like working in professional football?
Usually my response is the same. It can be hard work and stressful when results aren’t going the right way or when the club has a few injuries, but for the majority of the time, its a fun environment to work in and can be very rewarding when you witness players you’ve been treating return to full fitness. With this article I will hopefully be able to elaborate on the role of a Sports Therapist in professional football and provide you with an insight as to why I have enjoyed it so much.
Previously within football, the medical team would comprise of a Physiotherapist who was seen as someone who ran on the pitch when a player went down and administered the ‘magic sponge’. However nowadays the world of football is vastly different, and with the advancements in medical and sports science, the role of the medical team has developed into a multi-disciplinary team, ensuring that players are treated to a high standard. Although medical teams have improved, the level of staffing can differ vastly from team to team. Working at Millwall FC, we have a fairly small medical team compared to the top clubs in the Premier League. Our team consists of a first team Physiotherapist, an U23’s Physiotherapist and two Sports Therapists, in which the Sports Therapists will generally answer to the head Physiotherapist, although this usually differs from club to club.
For me, at Millwall FC, I have performed two different roles, the first being the travelling Sports Therapist, where I would work with the team at the training ground and then travel to matches to provide soft tissue treatment at the hotel during the evening and morning of the game before assisting the Physiotherapist pitch side during the game. During the match you would have to be ready for all eventualities, from head injuries and serious injuries, through to the minor scrapes and grazes. Whilst travelling with the squad I would usually work long hours and sometimes 7 days a week depending on our fixture schedule, however I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to work in professional football.
My current role at Millwall doesn’t involve travelling anymore, which as ive got older I have enjoyed more as it allows me to work at Summit Wellbeing and follow my passion in cycling, where I can now race and time trial on a regular basis. This new role involves me being predominantly based at the training ground which includes a variety of different roles, ranging from daily updates of the injury stats, keeping the Cryospa (ice bath) up and running, through to working with the players in the treatment room. Working with the players is the main role of a Sports Therapist, and throughout my time at Millwall, I have been tasked with assisting the Physiotherapists in providing injury assessments (as you can imagine are predominantly lower limb and lower back), and ultimately providing treatment for these injuries by using a variety of modalities, such as ultrasound, interferential, joint mobilisations and soft tissue therapy (massage).
The roles I tend to perform the most include working with the injured players providing indoor and outdoor rehabilitation, prehab (injury prevention) programs as well as providing soft tissue release through a wide range of techniques, generally involving assisted stretches, trigger point release, instrumented soft tissue release and sports massages. These treatments will be available to all players, whether injured or not, and due to this nature, treatments will always differ depending on which player you’re working with. I have found that as I have developed as a Sports Therapist and worked with a squad that has remained consistent, I have been able to build up a rapport and an understanding of how each player responds to treatment, leading to my own personal development as a therapist, as I have learnt to develop and learn new techniques to suit each players requirements, as what works for one player, may not be of benefit to another.
Having worked in professional football for four years with the same club, I feel that the most enjoyable and satisfying aspect of the job is treating and rehabilitating the injured players, as there is always a sense of reward when you witness a player that you’ve been working with return to full fitness. Injuries in football generally range from short-term injuries, such as muscle and low grade ligament tears, to the more long-term, more serious injuries, that will commonly require surgical intervention. Since working at Millwall FC, I have assisted in the rehabilitation of a few serious injuries, all of which required surgical intervention and were potentially career-threatening injuries.
These serious injuries have included meniscal tears, ACL ruptures, micro-fracture surgery to the knee (entails a surgeon drilling small holes into the bone to generate new cartilage within the knee joint), nerve damage from ACL surgery causing drop foot, which resulted in months of nerve retraining to teach the player to move his foot again. All these injuries have been serious, yet the worst injury I have seen and treated was a player who ruptured his ACL and causing severe damage to the postero-lateral corner of the knee. This entails rupturing the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) hamstring tendon and popliteus tendon (muscle behind the knee). Due the serious and the high potential of this being a career ending injury, rehabbing this player required hard work from both the player and all the medical team at Millwall FC, which ultimately resulted in a sense of comradery and the eventual feeling of satisfaction when we saw that player return to full fitness and play his first competitive match since the injury a year later.
For me personally, being a Sports Therapist working in professional football can be hard work and draining both mentally and physically, as a result of the long hours and potentially long, busy weeks, with the added pressure of making sure each player is fit and healthy, ready to be competitive. However, from experience, I have found that working as a Sports Therapist as part of a multi-disciplined medical team within professional football can be an extremely rewarding and an enjoyable career, as although there may be times where you are under pressure, you will always find a sense of comradery and enjoyment. Ultimately all the hard work can be rewarded as it was for me last season, where we made it to the league one playoff final and beat Bradford City 1-0, resulting in our promotion to the Championship.
Hopefully this article may have given you an insight into my life as a Sports Therapist working within professional football and an understanding into how important it is to have a multi-disciplined medical team within football. Now that I have taken the step to working primarily at the training ground for Millwall, it has allowed be to transfer and use my skills to work with people outside of football at Summit Wellbeing on Saturdays, where I can provide everyone with the same attention and treatment modalities elite athletes would receive from me, plus I am more than happy to discuss with anyone my experiences within football and anything else people are dying to know.
I look forward to seeing and meeting some of you down at Summit Wellbeing East Sheen on Saturdays.Book Online
Sam Greenwood MSST – Sports Therapist at Summit Wellbeing and Millwall FC