As a private practice clinician working with teams, it is interesting the amount of questions I receive on ‘what does a physiotherapist do on competition/game day?’ Most people assume that a physiotherapist’s role is associated with just massage. In this Blog I will share my experience of a physiotherapist’s role on game day in football. I have chosen football as I have worked for over 10 years in the sport, most recently two seasons at North Melbourne Football Club. I have seen and attended to many injuries and worked numerous game days, so let’s discuss what happens on game day.

Firstly, players and staff arrive to the game at least 2 hours before the start time. In among coaches’ meetings and various warm up drills, the players will come and see the physiotherapists for any pre-existing injuries, often in conjunction with the club Doctor.

For those with pre-existing injuries, physiotherapy starts early and often includes a quick baseline assessment followed by treatment and re-assessment. Treatment may involve manual therapy, such as joint mobilisations and soft tissue release and often includes some type of sports taping. Next time you watch a football game, just have a look at how many players you can see wearing sports tape e.g. on their shoulders, knees and wrists. You’ll be surprised how many do if you haven’t already. You won’t see ankle taping because it is covered over by the socks but many players will play with their ankles taped, either for preventative purposes or as a result of recent injury. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in football alongside muscle strains such as to the calf and hamstring.

Sports trainers are very helpful with taping non acute and regular taping and after all the taping is out of the way, rub downs begin. Sports trainers and physiotherapists will be busy with the rub downs for those that are feeling ‘tight’, often in the glutes, hamstrings and calves. Then the first warm up session begins, often indoors. Physiotherapists may assist with segments such as leading the dynamic warm up stretches.

Once players go outside for their skills based warm up, physiotherapists will be outside with them on standby for any injuries that may occur during this session. Any last minute taping takes place such as player that says ‘oops I forgot to get my thumb strapped,’ or ‘my tape is too tight’ and the classic ‘do you have the Grippo?’

The players will then return to the rooms for their ‘final coach’s address.’ We will follow the players out onto the field and as they run through banners and onto the field, we prepare our place on the bench. Bags of different sports tape, massage creams, and a generously equipped first aid kit are at the ready.

Once the whistle blows, the game finally starts. Now as a spectator the game is great to watch. You will watch the current play and see all the spectacular marks. As a physiotherapist, you watch the game differently which may not be as enjoyable. Indeed many physiotherapists who have had a love for the game and started working in it quickly change their mind and move on as we are constantly observing all the players. We are looking through the crystal ball for any potential injuries that may occur, particularly off the ball. We observe those players with current injuries, expecting them be running at full speed and questioning ourselves if not. We are ready to run on at any time should there be a need e.g. a twisting knee injury, a concussion. Yes, you will also see the physiotherapists and the sports trainers massaging on the side lines, often for muscle cramps, which funnily enough a swash of pickle juice or apple cider vinegar can help settle. The game goes on and we are constantly working.

After the final whistle, we always hope we can sing the club’s song. If successful we stand on the outside of the circle, right next to the players, we feel part of the team and there is a wonderful atmosphere comradery. The coach will give the players a post match address and recovery time begins for the players. Bags of ice are brought out and more thorough assessments of match day injuries are made and recorded, ready for follow up review on the Monday training session. With our equipment packed, injuries notes written, we leave for home and that’s what a physiotherapist does on game day.