Obesity is certainly a buzz word in today’s society. It’s impossible to avoid the countless reports about how both how “fat” this country is becoming. Not only that, there is also the constant spoon-feeding of stories about how “lazy” Britain is becoming too. The statistics don’t lie though – despite the population growing year upon year, the numbers of those taking part in grass root level sport is declining across a number of activities.
This is often put down to factors such as how expensive and time consuming sport can be, but personally I believe there is something else that is just as influential – injuries. And not just the physical problems themselves, but also how they are treated.
Sport and injury do, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand. Athletes, no matter what level, are regularly exerting excessive and often unnatural forces on their bodies and eventually they will start to break down, some more than others. This could result in anything from a few aches and pains to the need for major surgery and even permanent disability. Everyone athlete knows this but there is something about their chosen activity that makes this risk worth it. Or at least it used to.
How many of you have been to see a GP or other health care professional (not including physiotherapists) to have a sport-related injury treated recently? My guess is that the answer is very few. It’s just not the done thing. If you have an injury but can continue, you are expected to. Unless it’s blatantly obvious that carrying on is physically impossible and/or unsafe, athletes at all levels are shamed if they decide to rest and seek treatment.
This may seem an old-fashioned and out-dated view and oh how I wish it was. Sadly the reality is that the ‘culture of risk’ still pervades through all sport. It’s not just the athletes and coaches who reinforce this though; the way in which doctors treat our injuries also has a huge impact.
A few years ago a good friend of mine suffered a horrific injury at a cricket match in which the ball smashed his glasses, shattering the lenses into his eye. Whilst we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive one of the wives of a player on our team asked if it was possible to change him out of his cricket whites. When I asked why, I couldn’t believe the response I got. She told us that if he turned up wearing sports clothes he wouldn’t be seen as a priority case because the doctors would just say he had willingly put himself at greater risk by getting involved in such an activity.
In the end, he was forced to wait for over 2 hours in A&E before being treated, despite the fact that he was bleeding profusely from one eye. Not only that, but he wasn’t exactly young; he was well into his 70s. The only way I can describe this is disgusting. The injury is what should be treated, not the method in which it occurred.
It’s fair to say I receive more than my fair share of injuries but the only way I will get them seen to is if I’m forced by my friends (or I’m completely unaware of what’s going on, as was the case recently). When I do get treatment, I’ve got to the stage where I end up lying about what caused the problem because I feel that if I tell the truth I won’t get treated properly. Not that it makes any difference as, having quite an athletic figure, the moment a doctor sets eyes on me they already know the likely cause of any physical pain.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford/have access to private healthcare then this isn’t such a problem but most amateur athletes have to rely on the NHS. Before anyone accuses me of turning this into a political argument, I think this system does a great job considering how over-stretched and under-funded it is. It’s just the way that they treat sports injuries that irks me.
When I think about it, prejudice seems to be a very fitting way of presenting this argument. This may seem quite a strong view and of course it’s nowhere near as serious as some other forms out there, but why should we be less entitled to proper professional care than someone who has had an accident doing DIY or something similar? If all we’re told to do is rest and take painkillers it’s no wonder athletes refused to get treated.
How does this relate to falling participation levels though? For any amateur athlete, an injury isn’t just a reason for them not being able to take part in the game they love – it could also easily impact on their work and family. If they know that they’re not going to get the help they need, then they will avoid taking unnecessary risks that could cause serious problems, i.e. they will give up sport. Of course this is just from my observations but I’m confident in thinking that this has gone through the minds of many who have left sport behind.
What can be done then? I see it as a matter of education regarding patient treatment. Medical professionals need to treat each case in a completely unbiased manner and be able to put aside the context behind each injury. I can’t deny that there are unfortunately too many who try and get help when they don’t need it but there is an even greater number who refuse to get treatment when they genuinely need it as they would rather not feel belittled and patronised.
Some may argue this will be putting an unnecessary extra workload on an already stretched system, but in the long run it will save the taxpayer a lot more money if we have fitter people being treated for relatively short-term problems than an fatter population with a whole range of long-term issues.