TASS Practitioner focus: The role of a physiotherapist

Physiotherapist Neal Reynolds works with TASS athletes (Credit: Buckinghamshire New University)

Each year hundreds of talented athletes across England benefit from crucial physiotherapy support as a part of the TASS programme. In the first of a series of features focusing on the role of TASS practitioners, we caught up with physiotherapist Neal Reynolds.

TASS: Describe your current role – where are you based and what does your job entail?

Neal Reynolds: I am Senior Lecturer in Sports Therapy at Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe and I also provide a physiotherapy service to two Under 17 lacrosse athletes on behalf of TASS. My role as a lecturer involves teaching Sports Therapy students on the BSc programme and we will soon be offering an MSc that starts in September.

TASS: When did you decide to move into physiotherapy and what attracted you to the profession?

NR: I decided to pursue a career in physiotherapy when I was 16. The inspiration for me to study physiotherapy was as a result of fracturing my ankle at school and not receiving adequate post-injury therapy.

TASS: How long have you been a physiotherapist and how has the profession developed during the time you have been practicing?

NR: I graduated in 1995 from the University of Brighton with a BSc (Hons) and then completed an MSc in Sports Physiotherapy in 2010. Since my graduation, the profession has changed significantly and I believe that this is because the population has become more active and more aware of how their body works and how to look after it. The fundamental principles of physiotherapy have not changed although there is now more emphasis on patient education and facilitating patients to become more independent and responsible for their own recovery. I also think that the information that is now available on the internet has made the general public more aware of how to treat injuries and, therefore, physiotherapists have had to become more creative and resourceful to ‘sell’ their services.

TASS: How important is specialist physiotherapy to performance athletes in 2018?

NR: There are a several different specialities within physiotherapy and therefore it is far too difficult to be an expert in all of them. Musculoskeletal physiotherapy is one example and performance enhancement of the elite athlete is a further sub-division. It is very important that a physiotherapist who is working with performance athletes has an understanding of the physiology of exercise and training to improve performance – in addition to treating injuries and implementing injury prevention programmes and strategies.

TASS: As a physiotherapist how can you make a positive difference to athletes and enable them to achieve their goals?

NR: Injuries are, unfortunately, part of playing sport and therefore athletes, more often than not, develop close working relationships with their physiotherapist. In addition to treatment and rehabilitation, the role of the physiotherapist is to implement injury prevention strategies to minimise the risk of injury and improve performance. The existence of this close relationship means that the therapist can have a significant influence on the psychological attitude of the sportsperson and setting S.M.A.R.T goals is a vital part of the process to achieving success for both parties.

TASS: Can you briefly describe your career progression?

NR: When I qualified, I started working in the NHS to gain experience in several areas of physiotherapy but after two years I decided to focus on MSK physiotherapy. I have always enjoyed watching and playing football (albeit to a poor standard!) and therefore I applied for a job as youth team physiotherapist at West Bromwich Albion FC in 1998 and never looked back. Since then, I have held a number of full-time roles including first team physiotherapist at Oxford United, Head of Medical Services at Norwich City and first team physiotherapist at Arsenal.  In 2015, I decided to change my career path and focus on education, so I applied for the role at Bucks with the aim of giving something back to the profession that I have enjoyed so much and also, on a personal level, to spend more time with my young family. Whilst at Bucks, I have recognised how important it is to continue being a practicing clinician, so I also work in the Sports and Wellbeing Clinic at the university, in addition to providing a physiotherapy service to two elite youth lacrosse players as part of TASS. As a direct result of the work I do for TASS, I was recently selected to travel to Japan with the English Lacrosse Under 23 squad for the ‘friendship games’.

Neal Reynolds in Japan

Neal Reynolds in Japan with the English Lacrosse Under 23 squad (Credit: Buckinghamshire New University)

TASS: When did you start working with TASS and what is your view on the support TASS offers to dual career athletes?

NR: I started to work with TASS in 2017 when Bucks New University was recognised as a provider for TASS athletes. TASS provides a fantastic service to ensure that talented young athletes can have regular access to specialist medical and sports science services, provided by experienced practitioners at their local universities. As a result, it also allows students to continue their studies in their chosen location without compromising their development as an athlete.

TASS: How difficult can it be to juggle a full-time education with elite sport?

NR: Having worked in professional football for more than 20 years, I have seen first-hand how much dedication is required for athletes to succeed in elite sport and, as a consequence, how much time commitment is needed. To combine this with studying in full-time education is extremely difficult but the athletes that I have worked with so far seem to manage this very well. Having access to a local medical and performance support service like TASS certainly helps.

TASS: What do you enjoy most about your TASS role?

NR: Having worked with professional athletes for so many years, I now really enjoy working with young amateur athletes who are elite performers within their chosen sport. I particularly enjoy the education aspect of this – enabling them to become independent and partly responsible for their sporting careers in terms of performance and wellbeing.

TASS: How can the TASS network have a positive impact on emerging athletes in the future?

NR: I think that athletes can see how successful the partnerships are that exist between TASS and several educational institutions. They realise that it is possible to continue their education while pursuing a sport that they love to play and a sport they excel at. This is facilitated by having access to equivalent specialist sports medicine and science services that they might receive in centralised performance centres and in professional sports.

Sports Therapy students at Bucks New University (Credit: Buckinghamshire New University)