What do Physiotherapists do on Game Day?

A question I often get asked as an AFL Physiotherapist is “What do you do on game day?”

I have had the pleasure of working for 3 different AFL clubs over the last 10 years (St Kilda, Gold Coast and Richmond FC) and the game day role remains challenging and enormously rewarding.

Players arrive at the ground usually two hours prior to the game starting. Players like to familiarize themselves with the ground, check the weather/wind direction, check the grass surface and decide which boots to wear etc.

We have two Physiotherapists work on game day and we are ready to treat the players from the time they arrive.

Treatment pre game consists of specific strapping of ankles and shoulders and a variety of other body parts when needed. Taping provides the players with a sense of support, can be used to restrict joint movement, and some evidence suggests it may reduce injury severity. We use mobilization and soft tissue techniques to loosen up stiff ankles and lower backs. We also provide massage when required. We help players complete specific warm up exercises utilizing resistance bands and weighted vests. Almost all of the players would check in with us or get treated pre game.

Once the game begins, we have two Doctors and two Physiotherapists that sit on the interchange bench. We all continually monitor the players injuries and provide treatment. Most small injuries can be dealt with on the side of the field, but more serious cases require change room access where we can utilize equipment to assess and treat injuries. Most commonly we see sprained ankles, dislocated fingers, muscular contusions and strained muscles. Rarely, we may see a fracture or concussion that requires stretcher retrieval from the field of play. In these cases, both Doctors and Physiotherapists follow a strict protocol to ensure player safety.

If a player is able to safely return to play then they are closely monitored. If required we can reduce game time exposure by increasing interchange rotations for individual players. As the game progresses into the fourth quarter we can get very busy on the interchange bench.   Monitoring 3-4 players with game day injuries and managing muscular cramp in fatigued players.

Post game, injury management begins straight away. All players will check in with the Doctor and Physiotherapist regarding injuries sustained. Treatment begins immediately (compression/ICE etc.) and players are given an initial 24hour plan.

Post Game recovery for the players is either at our training facility when playing in Melbourne or at our hotel when travelling interstate. This consists of Ice Baths, Pool Recovery, Massage, Stretching, Rehydration/Food Replenishment and can take players up to 2 hours to complete.

Stuart McKenzie is a director at Restore Physiotherapy & Pliates. He has worked as a physiotherapist at the Richmond Football Club for the past 3 seasons. Stuart’s role involves match day coverage as well providing physiotherapy services to the players during the week. Prior to Richmond, Stuart had stints at both the St Kilda and Gold Coast Suns Football Clubs.