Sports Injury? Who Ya Gonna Call?

Don't act all hard and grit your teeth through an injury. Discover the best person to get you back in the game

So you’ve been inspired, you’ve signed up to an event, you’ve bought all the kit and thrown yourself into the training.

But now, during a particularly bad-ass workout, you’ve gone and twanged a muscle, clonked a joint, or developed a niggling dickhead of a pain. Bummer.

Don’t suffer through that sports injury pain, hoping it’ll magic itself away. Call an expert in and get yourself fixed up proper.

But! Which is the right kind of doc for you? Here’s who you should see, when, why and for what.

What does a physiotherapist do?

Physiotherapists treat a multitude of injuries, affecting all parts of the body, both of a muscular and skeletal nature. They take a holistic approach, meaning they look at the body as a whole, rather than focusing in on an injured or illness.

They use a wide range of techniques, which can range from acupuncture and ultrasound to ‘hands-on’ treatment techniques designed to mobilise your joints and soft tissue.

Broadly speaking patients tend to visit a physiotherapist in the early stages of an injury

Basically, they look at the big picture, then figure out what the best way forward is from a wide variety of options.

“No injury is the same, but broadly speaking patients tend to visit a physiotherapist in the early stages of an injury,” says chartered physiotherapist Jon Cooke.

After diagnosing the issue at hand and selecting an appropriate treatment, a physiotherapist will then see the patient’s rehabilitation through to completion, before offering advice on how to avoid repeating the injury. (“Maybe don’t go ice-skating after seven pints again?” That kind of thing.)

“We want to help patients help themselves,” says Jon. “We advise on preventative measures to decrease the likelihood of recurrence of injury and, where needed, give personalised long-term exercise programmes.”

Sounds like what you’re after? Make sure your physiotherapist is chartered and HCPC registered. You can search for a reputable physiotherapist in your area on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website.

What does a chiropractor do?

Chiropractors treat disorders of the masculoskeletal system – your bones, joints and muscles – and the effect these have on your nervous system and general wellbeing.

Although they specialise in neck and back pain, your entire physical, emotional and social wellbeing is taken into account during your assessment.

If your spine is misaligned you may experience ‘interference’ of the nervous system

A chiropractor’s aims are to ease pain, improve function and increase mobility, which they do using a wide range of techniques, including (eek) hands-on manipulation of the spine. If your spine is misaligned you may experience ‘interference’ of the nervous system, and your body will be less able to fix itself.

Chiropractors will often perform manipulations known as (eek) high-velocity thrusts, which aim to restore the range of motion in a restricted joint. These tend to be shorter, sharper movements than those used by, say, a physiotherapist, who tend to smooth their manipulations out with massage and therapeutic exercise.

You can search for a qualified Chiropractor in your area on both the British Chiropractic Association and General Chiropractic Council websites.

What does an osteopath do?

Osteopathy is based on the principle that the way your body moves influences how it functions. Osteopaths focus on the whole body, treating muscles, joints, limbs and spine, and they’re less ‘formulaic’ in their approach than some other practitioners.

An osteopath will first assess your problem, based on both a detailed verbal case history and a physical assessment. They’ll then deploy manipulation techniques such as stretching, pressure and mobilisation. They’re also trained in cranio sacral therapy, which involves very subtle, gentle adjustments to the patient’s skull, face, spine and pelvis.

People who come to us have often have no diagnosis or explanation as to what’s wrong with them

“An osteopath has a broad reach,” says osteopath Robin Lansman, vice-president of the Institute of Osteopathy. “They cover the internal workings of your body, your general health, the muscles, the joints, the periphery and the spinal joints.”

“People who come to us have often seen their GP or consultant, had scans that show nothing, had injections that give no lasting or permanent pain relief, and they . So what’s critical is getting a diagnosis and a prognosis before starting any hands-on treatment.”

Search for registered and qualified osteopaths in your area on the Institute of Osteopathy and the General Osteopathic Council websites.

What does a sports masseur/therapist do?

Sports massage not only helps existing injuries, it can also assist in prevent future injury by flushing lactic acid (the stuff that gives you stitch) out of your muscles following exercise, aiding recovery. Sports massage can also enhance performance, boost flexibility, and ease general aches and pains. Nice.

A sports masseur simply massages deep tissue, while a sports therapist combines deep-tissue massage with other techniques, such as mobilising joints (back and forth oscillations of the joint to restore motion) and trigger-point therapy (treating tight areas within muscle tissue, which can cause pain elsewhere in the body).

We consider how you sleep, your posture, what exercises you do, whether you sit at a desk all day, and so on

“We take a ‘global’ look at the body,” says sports therapist Michelle Flaherty. “So we consider how you sleep, your posture, what exercises you do, whether you sit at a desk all day, and so on.”

“Every treatment is customised. For example, it could be 75% deep-tissue massage, 20% mobilisation of joints, and 5% trigger point therapy. The client is quite active through their treatment, they’re not laid down on their front asleep – far from it!”

It’s not a registered profession, but there is a regulated body – the Sports Therapy Association – that’ll help you can find a therapist in your area. Alternatively, good ol’ word-of-mouth is always a smart way to go.


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