Q+A with Physio Mitch Casey

Mitch is a lead physiotherapist with Melbourne Athletic Development based predominantly at the Nunawading clinic. As part of his at role at MAD he is the head physiotherapist at Darebin Falcons VFL club. This week we took some time to discuss his physiotherapy role at the Darebin Falcons VFL team.

We are now coming into round 4, how was the preseason with regards to injury management and prevention? What things did you focus on with the coaches and preparation team?

Our preseason program had some changes from previous years in terms of training intensity and volume as the club had some staff changes, including the head coach. This was compounded by the knowledge that a significant number of our AFLW players would not be able to return for the VFL season for various reasons. So it was crucial that the remaining players stepped up and trained at an intensity that focused on making progress. As is common with all clubs the key pillars that we worked hard to improve were speed, endurance and ball skills. Preseason is understandably taxing on the players even when there is a gradual increase in the intensity of training sessions, you’re always going to have sore players in the first few weeks until their bodies adapt and this year was no exception. Another thing we focused on with coaches and preparation staff was minimizing soft tissue injuries. We implemented an ongoing monitoring system that was able to identify significant variations in players responses to training loads, identifying soreness or changes in injury risk factor profiles and used these to alter training both on the field and in their prescribed gym programs away from training.

What goes into being a physio for a VFLW team? How much preparation and planning is involved?

Being a VFLW physio is tough but rewarding work. Obviously I am at the club during training sessions and this can be extremely busy in a setting such as VFLW where the players are not full time athletes. There is assessment that is required for injuries sustained during the prior week’s game and also players who have been identified for soreness and signs of overload. These players require input from myself and the preparation team to provide them with modified training programs to get them back playing as soon as safely as possible. With regards to the planning, communication is key. We are constantly communicating with the players outside of training to help them manage injuries, you’re communicating with coaches and preparation staff and you’re writing rehab programs across the week to optimize return to play and performance. I am lucky enough to work with a great coaching team and strength and conditioning staff who help to design and implement effective training programs which takes a bit of the load off myself and the other health professionals.

What does a training session and game day involve for a team physio?

As suggested in the previous questions, training sessions involve a significant amount of assessment and injury rehabilitation plan implementation. It is a coordinated effort between myself and the preparation staff to get that balance right. As with all football clubs training involves a significant amount of taping, the most common areas that need taping are ankles, shoulders and fingers. Soft tissue work and joint mobility manual therapy plays a role in the athletes preparation so some of my time is also devoted to this. During the main session my focus moves to the rehabilitation group where I’ll supervise any rehab programs and deal with any new injuries that arises during the night.

Preparation for game day begins 90 minutes prior to the first bounce and is similar to training nights, except players with new injuries or sore spots need to be quickly assessed and worked on to determine if they’re fit to play or if we need to bring in an emergency player who are required to be at the ground on game day for this reason. During the game, my job is to assess any acute injuries that occur and determine if they player can continue on or if they have to call it a day. The other thing I have to do is constantly watch out for players who are showing signs of soreness and determine if they need to come off the ground for further assessment. Post game will involve recording any new injuries and providing advice on how to manage them for the next 48 hours until I see them again during the week.

Collision injuries are hard to prevent, but what can be done about non contact injuries? Can they be reduced?

Collision injuries can be tough to prevent but we are working on increasing education and exposure to effective ways to tackle and get tackled to minimize the risk of injury. But as you alluded to, the risk of non-contact soft tissue injuries can definitely be minimized. This year the preparation staff and myself have worked to design strength, power and plyometric programs for the players as there is developing research showing that exercise interventions are protective against these types of injuries, Lauersen JB et al 2014. We have also increased the amount of high speed running that the players are completing as this is also protective against non-contact injuries. Another focus has placed emphasis into the warm-up and ensuring that this includes a combination of flexibility, plyometrics, change of direction and progresses the players to high speed running so that they are prepared for training. These loads are then measured by our preparation team through GPS on training nights and games to ensure that load spikes with regards to intensity and volume are not significant. Bi-weekly surveys monitor soreness and fatigue to prevent increasing the likelihood of injury.

Finally Darebin is known to be leaders in the development of women’s sport over the last 25 years. What is it like to be part of an organisation like this? What separates them from other teams you have been involved with?

The Darebin Falcons have a unique culture and something that differentiates them from any other club I have been apart. The coaching staff and players all have great values that place emphasis on make all feel comfortable and welcome. It has taught me about how significant effect of establishing a strong culture in sport clubs and how this assists with accepting people from all walks of life. I have no doubt that this is why Darebin are the leaders in Women’s sport and have produced so many elite players of the game and will continue to do so.