How many youngsters dream of a career in professional football? And when we watch them on screen, excelling in the sport they love, who doesn’t envy their eye watering earnings?!
Dion was a promising Chelsea academist, having trained under the stellar Jose Mourinho. His whole career lay ahead of him when, at the age of 22, he stepped out for Swindon Town FC. The rewards are amazing. But the stakes are equally high. If injury strikes you’re out, everything can be taken away from you in an instant.
The opening game of the season saw Dion dislocate his shoulder. An injury that shouldn’t end a footballer’s career. But when Richmond Physio co-director Pippa Rollitt (https://www.richmondphysio.co.uk/pippa-rollitt) reviewed the footage she could see how, in subsequent games, that shoulder injury influenced his overall balance and stability on the ball, making him vulnerable in the tackle a few games down the line. This time it was his knee.
Professional football is your whole life. The tough training, conditioning, camaraderie, the roller coaster highs and lows of competition. It’s all consuming – until you’re injured then everything goes quiet and you don’t belong any more.
The Long and Winding Road
When Pippa first saw him in late 2017 Dion was devastated. He’d just come out of two surgical repairs from top knee (https://www.fortiusclinic.com/specialists/mr-andy-williams) and shoulder (https://www.fortiusclinic.com/specialists/mr-andrew-wallace) surgeons but no-one was saying it’ll be fine. There could be no guarantees. She knew she would have to get him on board with grindingly dull, punishingly hard work every day, accompanied by miniscule, measured goals and cautious predictions. And trust is crucial. She would need to push him, to stress the knee enough to toughen it up but not so much as to over-stress those delicate repairing soft tissues. That would set him back and that would be further devastation. it’s a delicate balance requiring a high level of expertise and experience.
The ultimate aim had to be: back on the pitch, timescale: minimum eight – nine months. That meant tight scheduling of a meticulously planned rehab programme. Pippa monitored him closely but emphasised that Dion would have to bring shed-loads of self discipline to make it back.
A Foot in Each Camp
In the early stages Dion visited his club regularly to keep in touch with his mates but it was a bitter sweet experience. The drive was four hours round trip, his legs would seize up and he’d struggle to stride out across the car park towards his welcoming team mates. Standing on the side lines, watching the squad in practice made it painfully clear how far he still had to go.
Good physiotherapists are good communicators, they harness their patients’ motivation, keep it going and hammer it towards achievable goals. It’s a tough journey with ups and downs. The pressure is on, expectations are necessarily high. Pippa loves a bit of pressure and no-one works harder for their patients. She recruited Dion’s family, for further support explaining and updating them on Dion’s progress every step of the way. It’s different kind of team.
Dion showed he could dig deep and keep with the programme. Three sessions with Pippa each week, regular sessions with his strength and conditioning coach, taking charge of his nutrition and sleep patterns. He did everything right and he bought into the reasons. When you see a freeze frame of a footballer on the fly, squaring up to whack the ball, where are his arms? Dion picked up on the relevance of the global rehab Pippa had prescribed, working on his rotatory stability from top to toe and from left to right.
Weeks turned into months and steadily there was progress. By May 2018, five months into his recovery, his knee surgeon gave Dion the green light to get tested at PitchReady, (link to http://www.pitch-ready.com) market leaders in analysing elite athletes post knee surgery. This is where the data comes in, a chance for Dion to find out how he’s doing and for Pippa to see if she’s got him on track, if her judgement matches the hard evidence. The results were good, their goals were fine tuned and they pushed on through the summer until by August he could return to the club with a smile on his face.
Buzzing, Exctied, Nervous!
Being back with the team inevitably Dion was thrilled but we know that rehab is not the same as the real thing. Any player would have concerns and be highly vulnerable to re-injury at this critical stage. But it’s about being prepared, knowing how to handle that stage and keeping your head. Smooth transitions and realistic training plans got him back into the team.
Dion played his first match this month, a full 94 minutes. He’s getting there.
Every stage of his recovery has been a step forwards and he has made a spectacular success of it.
Fingers crossed Dion. Awesome work Pippa !