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Illustration by Michael Bennington

Preventative Maintenance

By Andrea Bennington

Working a girl’s rugby high school tournament last year, Tahir Khan realised that the difficulty of being an athletic therapist often hinges on making hard calls when athletes may not be able to judge for themselves. Khan, a 2007 Sheridan college athletic therapy graduate, performed a full off-field assessment of a player, discovering she was suffering from a concussion.

“Apparently she had a history. I spoke with the athlete and she was quite confrontational and I told her you cannot return,” he says. “She was not happy with the fact that I was protecting her,” he adds.

“The main thing you need to do is educate the player. If they understand and respect you, you’re okay. But you will have the odd case where they won’t want to listen to you,” Khan says.

Khan played varsity basketball in 2007 and is currently working on his athletic therapy final certification. He says proper conditioning and equipment are key to avoiding situations where split-second decisions must be made in order to protect the well being of athletes even at the cost of the game.

Khan says athletic therapists often get compared to physiotherapists, but the main difference is that athletic therapists are trained for emergencies. “Unless they have a first responder, you won’t see a physiotherapist on the sidelines of a game,” he explains. “We are trained to deal with that.”

He views therapy as both a preventative measure and a rehabilitation tool. “It has to be both, otherwise you are only dealing with a certain aspect of injury . . . We are there to repair problems that will happen . . . and prevent it from happening again.”

Sometimes the athletes themselves can hamper the recovery process by not following suggestions or not performing a sports action properly, says athletic therapist Kelly Parr, a fellow Sheridan college alumnus.

Parr says it is important that athletes perform “their sport biomechanically correct.” She suggests using dynamic stretching, cross training and functional movement patterns.

Parr says it is not easy to treat all injuries, especially ones that do not lend themselves to speedy recoveries. “The athletes are always disappointed,” she says — especially if reconstructive surgery means spending six to nine months in rehab at the clinic.

However, Parr says she likes to work with athletes “because they’re motivated . . . They want to get back into their sport. They do take responsibility for their rehab if you give them the guidelines.” In contrast, she has found the general public is often more reluctant to follow through.

Athletic therapist Ron Mulesa agrees that what athletes do for themselves is crucial. An athlete’s drive to get better is a critical component for fast recovery, says Mulesa, who works at The Sports Medicine Specialists clinic in Toronto (with two other locations in Richmond Hill and Brampton).

“We had a dancer [with the National Ballet] last year who ruptured his Achilles tendon in January,” he says. “He had surgery two days later and was back dancing in September.”

Mulesa had the dancer undergo everything from muscle stimulation, massage and range of motion exercises, before addressing ballet-specific motions. “It was just remarkable how quickly he recovered,” Mulesa says.

He emphasizes recovery is often a case of mind over matter. “We like to feel we are making a physical difference. But a lot of it is making a mental difference,” he says.