Is Athletic Therapy Awkward?

A friend of mine recently referred to Athletic Therapy as “awkward”.  Now, before you get your fanny pack in a bunch, he didn’t mean it in a negative way. The conversation came up during his chiropractic visit. The chiropractor explained that until we get recognition we will always be struggling and never have a solid position within the healthcare industry. Now, I don’t know what else was said, but my friend did mention that he spoke highly of our skills. I’ll leave the discussion of government regulation for another post, but lets try and understand why anyone would think that the AT profession is awkward.

Initially I was defensive — which is probably how you are reacting right now. However, I thought that this would be a a great opportunity to practice critical thinking and maybe learn something from it. We all know how hard it is to step back and criticize ourselves but it can be a very effective way to improve. We need to start talking about issues in AT openly and frequently and not sweep them under the rug in hopes that they will disappear.  We need to stop practicing self flattering, spending all our time looking at all the daisies and flowers of Athletic Therapy and start looking at the challenges that all ATs face.

My conclusion is that…athletic therapy is kinda awkward.  Keep in mind, this is my opinion, and you are allowed to disagree — of course, I reserve the right to change my mind later on. I am all for a heated discussion, but please keep it civil and free of ad hominem.

For those of you who are still reading this — great, you haven’t left yet. That’s a good sign. I think being open minded and able to talk about our professions faults/weaknesses is important for the progression of the entire profession. Its time we really look at AT as a whole starting with our education, acquired skills, goals as a profession and general mindset.

As a reminder, lets take a quick look at our scope of practice from the Canadian Athletic Therapy Association (CATA) website:

The Scope of Practice of a Certified Athletic Therapist includes the prevention, immediate care, and reconditioning of musculoskeletal injuries…musculoskeletal and postural evaluation, equipment selection, fitting and repair, warm-up, conditioning programs, prophylactic or supportive taping, and adapting to the activity environment and facilities…. injury assessment, basic emergency life support, recognition and management of acute traumatic neurological dysfunction, provision of first aid, preparation for entrance into appropriate health care delivery systems, or, where appropriate, utilization of techniques facilitating a safe return to participation…assesses injuries and conditions, uses contemporary rehabilitative techniques, therapeutic modalities, soft tissue mobilization, physical reconditioning, and supportive strapping procedures to promote an environment conducive to optimal healing in preparing the individual for safe reintegration into an active lifestyle…Canadian Athletic Therapy Association

Ouuf, that’s a lot of text and that was with trimming. If you want to see the untrimmed, unedited version click here.

From the looks of it, we are very capable — but are we really that specialized? To me, it seems as if we are a blend of all the practitioners and professionals around us: the physiotherapists, kinesiologists, massage therapist, paramedics and strength and conditioning experts. We are trained and skilled with the bits and pieces of all of these professions, but without the benefits of being recognized for them. When I was in school (not that long ago), we were taught that we were only allowed to only treat people who were physically active, but since then AT has expanded their scope to reach out to occupational industries — using the argument that certain jobs are physical. Personally, I love that we are expanding our scope. But here is the big questions: how does calling ourselves athletic therapists effect our position among other professionals? It’s confusing.

Its clear that we don’t have a permanent seat at the proverbial “medical practitioner table” and are more of an occasional guest that must sit at the crummy, temporary table when we do. We must find a way to earn the respect and recognition that we deserve by using our uniqueness and specialization to position ourselves accordingly with the rest. We should not be forced to explain and describe our work as “kinda like a physios, but mixed with a kinesiologist”. How else can we explain our profession to the average person?

I want you to think about this: what makes athletic therapy unique? Like, really, really unique. And where do you see athletic therapists in the future? Leave your answers/comments below.

Before I go, I just want to say a few things:

For you field therapists out there, I applaud you and the services that you provide.  Your dedication to managing and maintaining athletes, injury prevention and emergency care is second to none, and at this point cannot be matched by any other profession. There is nobody else that is as available on-site with the amount of training that you have. There will be attempts to replace you by other professions — but remember: your education has developed you precisely for this position from the beginning. You are an expert in your domain. I see great things changing for field therapists. I know that there will be a time where fighting for a decent budget will become a thing of the past.

For clinical therapist, like myself, the road doesn’t seem so easy as we are much closer to the domains of other professionals. It will be much more difficult for you to squeeze into the industry, but it is possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have the solution yet. However, I would suggest that we distinguish ourselves from the other professions, instead of compete with them, and use our overlapping knowledge as leverage to put us in a stronger position. This will be a discussion in a future post.

I see a strong future for Athletic Therapy, but changes must be made to the  marketing strategies, nomenclature, educational curriculum, and maybe sacrificing a few “scopes of practices” — but hey, that’s just my opinion.

What do you think about this post? Are you offended? Inspired? Annoyed? Discouraged? Let me know in the comments below, and lets start a discussion and start moving in the right direction.

Quick Note: Big shout out to the Ontario Athletic Therapy Association (OATA) for making big steps in their marketing for Athletic Therapy in the last few years.

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