Tips on choosing a sports doctor or physio
If you’ve been riding or racing for a while, there’s a good chance you have suffered an injury or illness- whether from overtraining, a bad bike fit or a crash. A rehab plan is your best bet for getting back on the bike fully recovered and in a realistic timeframe, but who to turn to for help? Your first point of contact is likely going to be your general practitioner, and from there you may need to be referred to an orphopaedic, sports medicine specialist and/or physiotherapist.
But how do you pick a physician that’s right for you? What if you’re in a new or foreign city?
We spoke with Optum Pro cyclist Leah Kirchmann (pictured above) and physiotherapist Tim Needham of North Sydney Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Centre to get insights from both a patient’s and a provider’s experience.
Leah Kirchmann got injured while racing the BeNe Ladies tour in July where she crashed hard on the cobbles.
“My knee took all the impact, and I couldn’t start the final stage due to excessive swelling around the joint. I didn’t have enough range of motion to actually pedal,” she recalled.
Being a pro athlete, Kirchmann has the benefit of having team doctor and a massage therapist to keep bodies happy and injury-free.
“Yes, our team does have a dedicated doctor available to us. He doesn’t travel with us to the races, but he is always available by phone or email for consultation if we run into any medical issues while on the road,” said Kirchmann.
So what happens when you get injured in a foreign country?
“Arranging a doctor’s visit in a foreign city is a challenge at times,” Kirchmann pointed out. “If you happen to be at a race, the easiest thing to do is to contact the official race doctor (most events should have one). Otherwise, I would call a local clinic or hospital to ask for their help and recommendations for making an appointment.”
How do you choose your doctor (at home)?
“I don’t work with a specific sports doctor at home, however I did check that my current doctor had some previous experience working with athletes before choosing her,” said Kirchmann.
Kirchmann added that as a professional athlete, it’s her responsibility to ask the physician about all the details of the course of treatment and the specific medicine used as some treatments may contain substances banned by the sport. “As always, it is the athletes’ responsibility to know what they are taking, even a sports doctor may not be aware of everything on the list,” Kirchmann said. “I am lucky to have found a talented physio to work with at home. His background as a competitive cyclist allows him to relate to my issues/injuries and come up with effective treatment plans that work around the demands of the sport.”
For a provider, a positive endorsement from a happy client like the one above is the best way to attract new clients, said physiotherapist Tim Needham. It’s also the best way for an athlete to find a good doctor.
“Word of mouth within your sport is a great way to find a physio who has dealt with similar injuries in your sport,” said Needham. “It’s likely that someone in the bunch has had an injury dealt with successfully by a physio previously.”
Alternatively, there are many great resources online like the Australian Physiotherapists Association (APA)’s ‘Find a Physio’ search portal. It’s also important to check with your insurance for a list of preferred providers.
Private practice or hospital based?
“Doesn’t matter as long they regularly deal with sports injuries & have a good reputation,” said Needham.
How long should an athlete wait post injury before getting in touch with a doctor or physio for rehab?
“An injured athlete shouldn’t wait long before seeking out a physio or sports doctor. Accurate diagnosis of the injury is vital to commence injury management/rehab as quick as possible –as early as within the first few days is recommended,” said Needham. “Appropriate imaging such as X-ray & MRI scanning may be necessary for some injuries so getting this done ASAP is another reason not to wait weeks for an appointment.”
How do I know when my injury has healed to the point where I can break up with my physio?
“When diagnosing your injury at the initial appointment, your physio will give you an estimate of how long you’ll be out of training and the amount of treatment needed,” explained Needham. “If all goes to plan, the need for treatment will almost be over when you resume full training.”
But what about my training and competition schedule?
“You know you’re on to a winner when your physio has your return to training and competitions in mind. Clinicians with a good understanding of the demands of your sport and experience dealing with similar injuries are recommended,” said Needham. “An interest in bike set-up and cycling in general never hurts.”
What’s the number one thing that athletes could do better to get the most out of their rehab?
“Stick to the plan set by your physio and do the specified amount of rehab when away from the clinic,” said Needham.
Rae-Anne is a cancer researcher and longtime cyclist. Growing up in Canada, Rae-Anne began mountain biking in high school. She relocated to Australia for her PhD in medicine and raced with Sydney Uni Velo and Western Sydney Mountain Bike clubs while pursuing her degree. These days, Rae-Anne’s usual riding and racing also incorporates longer charity rides and team mountain bike events. Experienced with scientific writing, Rae-Anne is excited to do some less technical writing for Ella.