UWA-little-athleticsOne of the Great Australian summer sport traditions is Little Athletics. Activate Physiotherapy & Pilates are now in a fourth year of partnership with the University of WA Little Athletics Centre by supplying physiotherapy coverage during the 2015/16 season.

Why Little Athletics?

I know I’m biased but in my opinion, Athletics is the best sport on Earth. As much as the Olympics and World Championships are the showcase for the best performers and performances, Little Athletics is an example of all that the sport encapsulates.Sometimes great contests don’t involve great names.It is sport in its purest form, before it is tainted by drugs, money and corruption. It is winning and losing. It is effort and determination. It is elation and disappointment. I often feel when I see some of our more “illustrious” sportsmen (in their pre-season training on the adjoining ovals), that they should watch the kids (some of whom can run faster) compete. Maybe then they will remember why they play sport, and realise that they have been afforded one of the greatest privileges on earth. So instead of acting like they are be forced to undergo great hardship; and the club, the sport, and the world owes them a favour, they may see it for what it is.

Anyway, I digress. I shall hop down from my soapbox.

Little Athletics

It celebrates and identifies that someone will win, and in any race seven runners will lose; but it also celebrates personal achievement. It shows that anyone can pb (personal best) in any event at any time, irrespective of the their place in the race. Not everyone can win (in fact the simple maths alone says that you probably will lose), but if you try hard enough you can get better. It also introduces kids to the concept of getting injured. Strange as the concept of kids getting hurt may seem for many, learning how to differentiate between being sore and pain; hurting and getting injured, like many things in life is a skill that we can develop. For many kids the first time they are exposed to this is in Little Athletics. As a result Activate Physio has seen the need for these athletes to have access to quality physiotherapy and guidance, working alongside the coaches, to ensure that their experience of Little Athletics is as rewarding, enjoyable and successful as possible.

So, every Saturday morning (& a few Friday evenings) one of the Activate Sports Physios or Physios is on the sidelines, giving advice to the athletes (& family members), and providing enough treatment to allow the athletes to continue to compete.

Now obviously not every consult ends in good news. Along with muscle soreness, and blisters, we have our fair share of hamstring strains, rolled ankles and even the odd broken bone. Mostly however they can be lumped together into a couple of categories:

  • Growth Injuries
  • Effort Injuries
  • Motivation Injuries
  • Bad Luck Injuries

Firstly there’s the “Growth related injuries”. These can as benign as sore muscles from a recent growth spurt, or something more serious and longer to rehab such as Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease. Put basically Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease comes from an inability for the immature bone to adequately provide strong attachment for the muscle, in this case the quads. This usually results in inflammation, pain and often micro- fractures occur. Although ultimately self-limiting it still requires careful treatment and management. Similar conditions include Sinding-Larson-Johansson Disease (patella), and Sever’s Disease (heel).

Then there’s the “Effort injuries”. As an athlete, these are the often the most soul-destroying as they usually come at a time close to a major event or early in the season when you are excited about competing after training for so long over winter, and are usually when you are running/ throwing/jumping well. These mainly include the soft tissue strains and can happen to any athlete at any point of his/her career. Such is the prevalence of these injuries within certain disciplines, that certain soft tissue injuries have become synonymous with these pursuits ie hamstrings and sprinting.

Next, is the “Motivation Injuries”. These are a direct result of poor training habits, poor training programs and/or overtraining. Simply put they are the category of injury that can only occur with a significant amount of motivation to train. The classic example of this is a stress fracture. A stress fracture will occur if you do the same thing repetitively for a period of time. It doesn’t have to be particularly intense; it just has to happen over and over again. What’s more the athlete (being significantly motivated) will often continue to repeat the action even after pain is felt. It takes considerable motivation to train through pain. This is where young athletes learn the difference between sore and pain; hurting and injured.  In many ways it could be a sub category with Growth Injuries. Rehabilitation and treatment is often as hard as with Growth Injuries, as the first point of treatment is usually rest, and in particular resting from the activity that caused the problem. Thankfully, due to the quality of the coaches at UWALAC, and the attention they pay to the athletes and their programs, this is nowhere near the problem that it is in other sports, both amateur and professional.

Finally there’s the “Bad Luck Injuries”. Bad Luck Injuries are just that – bad luck. The athlete jumps in long jump, slightly over-rotates, puts his hand out to stop landing flat on his face and breaks his cuboid bone in his hand. Certainly wasn’t his fault, nor was it the fault of the officials or the groundskeepers or his coach. It was just pure bad luck; and sometimes bad luck happens. There is a physiotherapy school of thought that says “every injury is preventable”. In my experience, the only way to ensure a zero injury rate is to halt intent, stop effort and hope for good luck. Trying to improve performance brings with it the risk of injury; and doing nothing diminishes this risk but it also diminishes performance. Even then, sometimes accidents and in turn injuries just happen. No-one’s fault; no-one should have or could have foreseen it. This is when we pick the athlete up, patch them up, and prepare them such that it won’t re-occur.

With all that said, it would seem that Little Athletics is just a One-Way Ticket to getting injured. Obviously it’s not, and out of the ~650 registered athletes at UWALAC, the Physios from Activate Physio would see on average 8-10 athletes with a wide variety and severity of injuries.

As well as being a part of the action at UWA Sports Park every week, the Physios and Sports Physios at Activate have undertaken a program of screening as many Little Athletes as we are physically able to. Not an easy task when you are dealing with a Little Athletics Centre that has over 650 registered athletes.

The screenings are specific to the three disciplines in athletics; running, jumping and throwing, and are aimed at identifying and addressing issues that may limit performance and prevent future injuries.

Whilst there are many physios in general practice who hate yearly screenings (& I know when I was working at the WACA, I hated screenings like the Plague), the thought of doing a screening with a UWA Little Athlete is often the highlight of my day.

For me, it represents the chance to really make a change to someone’s sporting enjoyment and success. As a Sports Physio, when you are working with professional teams and individuals, they are often too physically (& moreover psychologically) entrenched in movement or strength patterns to undertake any meaningful change. With Little Athletes however, nothing could be further from the truth.

So, getting the opportunity to make a real difference, being the conduit for real change, and in turn seeing actual progress and improvement, and not just “putting out fires”, is certainly the reason why I do physio, and definitely the reason why Activate Physiotherapy and Pilates is involved with UWA Little Athletics Centre. Look out for the Activate Physiotherapy tent on competition days in October on the 17th, 24th and 31st.