Paralympians going for gold with help from physiotherapists: Special
knowledge and experience benefits athletes

TORONTO, March 16 /CNW/ - The 2010 Paralympic Games taking place in Vancouver this week are drawing more attention from Canadians than any other paralympic games in history. More than 1,300 athletes from 40 countries are competing in a variety of winter sports including sledge hockey, wheelchair curling, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, and biathlon. Working behind the scenes with these inspiring world class athletes are some of Canada's most committed physiotherapists. They'll be collaborating with the rest of the health care team to support the paralympians as they strive for optimal performance in competition. Not only are these physiotherapists sports experts, they also have knowledge of, and experience with, associated issues of long term disability.

"Disabled athletes are simply athletes with disabilities," says Paige Larson, the physiotherapist for Canada's wheelchair curling team and a member of the Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia, a provincial branch of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. "It's important to remember the individuals competing in these Games are people with world class abilities. They just happen to have a disability."

"There is no real difference," says Larson, "in modifying a program for a left-handed athlete as compared to modifying a training program for an athlete who has only the left hand." Larson, who has treated both Olympic and paralympic athletes adds that "disabled athletes involved in competitive sport are generally over their disability in the psychological sense. It becomes just a fact of life."

While the injuries paralympic athletes sustain are often the same as for any sport, including sprains, strains, contusions and lacerations, physiotherapy has a more important role in the overall condition of the paralympians. Wheelchair athletes, for example, may have blisters on the hands, friction burns on areas that have no sensation, and pressure sores. Thermoregulation is an important consideration in treating paraplegic and quadriplegic athletes as their bodies may not provide autonomic regulation of these systems. Extra equipment such as ice vests and heating huts may be needed to meet the needs of these athletes.

It can take extra thought and time to come up with the kinds of solutions needed to support paralympic athletes, and Larson's experience suggests that when the athletes have a dedicated physiotherapist in their corner, listening to their needs, they are able to stay competitive and at the top of their game.

The rewards of working with these athletes are enormous. "It is a very satisfying and enriching experience," says Larson. "The athletes are so appreciative of what we do for them and are rarely prima donnas. They have a great outlook on sport and life in general," adds Larson. "Paralympians have often been through terrible accidents or illnesses. Having now achieved readiness for international athletic competition, they have certainly earned the same level of support and admiration as our able-bodied athletes."

SOURCE Canadian Physiotherapy Association

For further information: For further information: spokesperson interview: Virginia Bawlf, National Media Relations Officer, Canadian Physiotherapy Association, (416) 932-1888 (x222), (647) 379-4145 (cell),

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