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The Athlete-Physiotherapist relationship: is it important?


Physiotherapists play a key role in sports injury rehabilitation within sport and a strong athlete-physiotherapist relationship is necessary for effective treatment and shaping of the athlete’s expectations of injury rehabilitation. 

To help build this relationship a physiotherapist must have good communication skills, be approachable, have a high level of competency, and understand the emotional and psychological demands of the sport and returning from injury. 

The primary aim of a physiotherapist is to treat and fully rehabilitate the athlete post-injury or post-surgery to prevent further injury and make the athlete safely return to sport within the shortest possible timeframe. 

So, how is this done? 

It’s important to understand this is not a one-way street, it takes as much effort from the athlete to develop this relationship as it does from the physiotherapist. It is, however, the physiotherapist's job to put all the parts in place to make this relationship as easy for the athlete as possible. 

From my experience working with different athletes from a wide range of sports, you need to be honest and provide them with all the information they need to progress through the rehabilitation journey but also get to know the athlete as a person. This way helps the athlete not only physically but also mentally too, which is vitally important for a successful return to sport. 

The information given to athletes includes but is not limited to, diagnosis of the injury, timeframe for return to sport (generally the first question you will be asked), and rehabilitation plan. This information helps the player understand how they are going to get back to their sport but also gives the confidence that you as the physiotherapist have the knowledge and expertise to get them there. Ultimately, this enables the athlete to trust the physiotherapist, which has been shown to have a significant impact on an athlete’s successful return to sport. 

The rehabilitation journey unfortunately is very rarely trouble-free, there are often setbacks along the way, and also difficult conversations regarding the seriousness of the injury, operations and sometimes even the ability to continue their career must be had. The trust between the athlete and the physiotherapist gained from doing all of the above will help maintain a good relationship through this often-tough time for both the athlete and the physiotherapist. 

For me, TRUST is the biggest factor in a good athlete–physiotherapist relationship. The athlete must trust the physiotherapist understands the injury and how to most effectively return them to their sport and the physiotherapist must trust the athlete is going to tell them the truth about how they are feeling and fully complete the rehabilitation to the best of their ability. 

This is not always an easy relationship to build or maintain for either the athlete or the physiotherapist and the best way to build this relationship as with any other relationship in life varies from person to person. Ultimately, the better this relationship is the more successful the athlete's return to sport journey will be, not only from the physical aspect but also the mental aspect of readiness to return. It is, for this reason, it’s vitally important that both the athlete and the physiotherapist strive to have the best working relationship possible. 

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