Jody’s Journey from Long Jumper, to Injury, to Physiotherapist
My plan when I was younger wasn’t to be a physiotherapist, but a long jumper. I was training and competing at national level and had won a few medals at competitions, including the South of England Championships. But then a pattern started to develop where, every March, I would start developing pain in my Achilles tendon.
This clearly wasn’t a coincidence: spring was when we would transition from strength and conditioning training into the explosive, high-force training that was essential for long jump, as well as when we would do warm weather training in places like Portugal and Malaysia to focus on competition preparation.
My body wasn’t able to keep up, and I needed to find out why so I could continue my training and my long jumping career.
I saw numerous physiotherapists, a couple of chiropractors and an osteopath, but the pain kept recurring. A friend referred me to a physiotherapist with athletics experience and a treatment approach that was focused on educating me about my body and my condition so I could manage the bulk of the recovery myself. It’s an approach that I continue to emulate to this day, but it also came with a harsh wake up call.
What I discovered, unfortunately, was that my body just wasn’t suited for long jumping. I have stiff, high arched feet, so every time I jumped, instead of my foot moulding to absorb the force, it would remain stiff and send most of the force up into my muscles and tendons – and the Achilles tendon was the first stop.
Obviously, hearing that my chosen sport was the source of my injury wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and this wasn’t a problem that could be solved with a couple of post-training massages. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be athletic anymore – even a 5k run was no problem for my feet – it was specifically the accumulative explosive forces sustained from long jumping that was overloading my Achilles tendon.
I was taught how to adapt my training to keep as much load away from my Achilles as possible, giving it enough time to rest and repair by limiting my explosive training to three days a week, while strengthening my calf muscles and tendons and working on my running mechanics so that they weren’t being overworked.
With this self-managed approach, I was finally seeing progress, but it was clear that the writing was on the wall for my long jump career. However, my experience of being treated by the physiotherapist who taught me how to manage my condition planted a fascination with the human body in me which continued to grow.
Eventually, I left long jumping behind and started my physiotherapy education at the University of East London. Long story short, I’m now working at Physio London helping other people manage their physical conditions like I once had to.
What I wish I had known then
I was long jumping in my late teens and early twenties, a period when I think everyone feels like they’re made of rubber and magic. Even though I was an athlete, I knew very little about my body and how my training might impact it. The same was true for most of my peers. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but if I had started my athletic career with more knowledge about how the body works and my potential weaknesses, I may have been able to continue with it for longer or change to a sport which would have agreed more with my body.
If you’re an athlete yourself – whether professional or amateur – see a physiotherapist while you’re healthy. Athletics isn’t the most funded of sports, so unless you’re at the top end, you’re going to have to take responsibility for your own health. If you’re an amateur, that’s doubly true, as you’ll have less time to dedicate to working on your body.
By measuring your muscle strengths and joint movements, a physiotherapist can identify areas of potential weakness and teach you how to adapt your training – usually with very simple changes – so that they won’t develop as easily into an injury. Just a couple of visits a year can help you to keep track of your body in a way that’s simply impossible on your own – even physios see physios.
If you want to learn more about your body, book an appointment with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 7093 3499.
Jody Chappell, MSc BSc MCSP HCPC