Athletes now recognise the profession's major contribution, says Olympics lead PT

The London Olympic Games are just days away, but physical therapists in key positions have been working for years to ensure they are a success. In January 2011, Dr Marie-Elaine Grant was appointed the physiotherapy representative on the International Olympic Committee’s Medical Commission (Games Group), and here describes her role and how the profession is gaining influence at the highest level of world sport.

What is your role on the International Olympic Committee (IOC)?

The role of the IOC Medical Commission physiotherapist is to monitor physiotherapy activities and facilities for the 205 nations participating at the 2012 London Olympic Games. I am also responsible for providing the Medical and Scientific Department of the IOC with guidelines on physiotherapy policy, proposing and supporting sports physiotherapy and rehabilitation research projects, and providing recommendations for the organisation of physiotherapy and physical therapies services1 at the Olympic Games. I am the main contact person for the IOC for all issues related to physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

What led to your appointment?

I have worked in elite Olympic sports over the past 20 years and have been the lead physiotherapist with the Irish Olympic team for the past five major Olympic Games, from Barcelona in 1992 to Beijing in 2008. I have worked with two Irish winter Olympic teams. I also had the opportunity to present at many Sports Medicine Conferences including IOC sports medicine symposia during the 2008 Games. I have greatly valued the opportunity to collaborate with many sports medicine colleagues over the years of my involvement and have been actively involved in clinical research completing my PhD in 1997.  After the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games a position for a physiotherapist on the IOC Medical Commission became available and I was very honoured to be appointed. 

What is your role at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games?

I will be liaising closely with Lynn Booth, the Clinical Lead for Physical Therapies at the Games, about physiotherapy activity at the polyclinics, training and competition venues and the physiotherapy facilities provided for National Olympic Committees (NOCs) – national organisations responsible for the selection, preparation and management of their national teams.  I will also be responsible for monitoring physiotherapy activities and facilities on behalf of the IOC. 

In addition I will host a number of IOC physiotherapy workshops. The aim of these is not only to provide NOC medical team personnel with current evidence-based information presented by experts but also to provide a forum for discussion, networking and collaboration between physiotherapy colleagues and other members of NOC Medical teams. (The IOC Medical Commission’s Academic Programme for 2012 can be viewed at www.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/Medical_commission/5th%20_Edition_of_the_Olympic_academic_programme_on_Sport_Medicine_and_Sport_Physiotherapy.pdf, but please note that accreditation to the residential zone of the Olympic Village is required to access the workshops.)

During the Games, we will be carrying out research projects gathering as much information and data as possible on physiotherapy activity, and afterwards I will be preparing detailed reports for the IOC Medical Commission highlighting advances that have been made and recommendations for the future.

What rehabilitation facilities are there for the Olympics, and Paralympics?

I have visited the Olympic Polyclinic in Stratford with Lynn Booth and was very impressed by plans and structures. There will be a state of the art physiotherapy service and what promise to be the best facilities experienced to date in an Olympic Village. 

The polyclinic has physiotherapy treatment and rehabilitation areas,  hydrotherapy and cryotherapy facilities (including cryobaths) and an extensive massage area, all complementing the highest standards of care for athletes. 

There will also be physiotherapy and massage facilities available at training and competition venues where physiotherapists and massage therapists will be available to take care of athletes.  All of these stations will be well-equipped with electrotherapy, cryotherapy, strapping, tapes and so on. In addition, all NOC teams will have a treatment area within their residence and will have access to a wide range of excellent physiotherapy equipment. 

Lynn Booth and her team have worked hard to ensure that skilled, experienced sports physiotherapists, sports massage therapists, osteopaths and chiropractors have been recruited to deliver these services to the highest standards.  Detailed rotas have been planned in order to ensure cover and continuity throughout the games.

What are your main hopes for the Games, with the physical therapy profession particularly in mind?  

The 2012 Games promise to be very memorable for the competing athletes and also for those of us who contribute on both a professional and a volunteer basis. I would hope that the physiotherapy profession will have the opportunity to showcase its value. Our profession deserves recognition in the light of the enormous contribution that physiotherapists across the globe give to protecting the health of athletes and supporting optimal performance. I would hope that following the 2012 Games further avenues will open for our profession to progress and develop in the field of sports physiotherapy.

Do you think there is already increasing recognition of the role of PTs in international sport?

Physiotherapists have an increasing role in international sport, not only in treating and preventing injury but also in facilitating and supporting performance. This is now widely acknowledged by so many athletes and their coaches, and evidenced by the number of athletes who specifically request to have their physiotherapists accredited during the Olympic Games. Athletes need the highest quality of sports physiotherapy input to achieve their personal best. 

Physiotherapists have also advanced in terms of their ability to lead and manage teams. There are many examples of physiotherapists being appointed into management roles within medical teams – in some cases physiotherapists are being appointed as the chief medical officer of Olympic teams where traditionally these roles have been carried out by a medical doctor. In the future, I have no doubt that physiotherapists – due to their knowledge skills and capabilities – will enjoy more opportunities to lead and manage. 

What can you tell me about the contribution of physiotherapists from all over the world?

The Olympic and Paralympic Games presents sports physiotherapists from across the globe with a very unique opportunity to contribute their knowledge and skills to protect the health of the athlete in terms of injury prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and also to support performance.   

What we contribute on a professional basis, through discussion and knowledge sharing, is also very important.  The IOC Medical Commission, through injury surveillance studies, provides very important information on sports injury epidemiology during high-level competition, and this has important implications for furthering our knowledge in injury prevention. Team physicians and physiotherapists across the globe contribute their injury statistics (all athlete names are confidential) to help further this research. 

I look forward to continuing this work with a specific focus on physiotherapy activity during the 2012 Olympic Games and to this end I very much look forward to meeting with and collaborating with physiotherapy colleagues from across the globe.  

1. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games has decided to use the term “physiotherapy” to describe the profession, and the term “physical therapy” to describe a broader workforce that provides fitness and rehabilitation services to athletes. WCPT uses the term “physical therapy” specifically to describe the profession also described as physiotherapy.