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Sports medics fix workers

As sports medicine grows as a medical discipline in its own right, the lessons learnt in its practise are being used to return injured workers to work more quickly.

As an injury to a top athlete such as Peter Matera or Shane Warne can cost a team dearly, so to an injury to a crucial employee can cost a company.

Sports Medicine Australia executive officer Anne Johnston said sports medicine had grown from a few doctors in the 1960s into a multi-disciplinary field including physiotherapists, sports psychologists, exercise physiologists, podiatrists and dieticians.

“Back in the 1960s, it was seen as a profession there only for elite athletes such as those competing in the Commonwealth and Olympic games,” Ms Johnston said.

“The field has now evolved to include recreational athletes and is starting to filter into injured worker rehabilitation using the athlete recovery model.”

A tenet of sports medicine is that early intervention is crucial to aiding a person’s recovery.

Sports Med Subiaco partner Scott Isbel said the aim from day one was to get things moving so the patient did not lose muscle strength or joint movement and flexibility.

“Previously, the treatment for patients from motor vehicle accidents and workers’ compensation cases was probably poorer than it should have been,” Dr Isbel said.

One of the major differences between an injury to an elite

athlete and to an average worker is often the disparity between their individual levels of fitness.

Dr Isbel said a lot of workplace injuries occurred because workers were unfit.

“It’s then a combination of treating the acute problems plus an exercise program to lift the person’s condition,” he said.

Work-Link Occupational Health and Rehabilitation Service

exercise physiologist Jo Gale said the treatment of people with workplace injuries often involved targeting the affected area plus the surrounding areas of the body.

“We set up exercise programs within medical guidelines which will boost muscle strength, flexibility and self-esteem,” she said.

“It’s the same sort of benefits a healthy person would get from an exercise program at a gym.

“When people are off work for a long time, it also helps them to get some sort of a routine going.”

LifeCare manipulative physiotherapist Cameron Tweedie said sports medicine had definitely moved into the treatment of the ‘industrial athlete’.

Dr Isbel said Australia was up towards the top of the world rankings in sports medicine.

“We are one of the few countries in the world that has a college of sports medicine,” he said.

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