Atif Malik talks about his experience of working in sports injuries

Atif Malik

You have worked with multiple athletes in very different sports. Which sport would you say results in the most injuries?

I have worked within both professional and amateur football, rugby, wrestling and boxing, as well as seeing individual patients from a variety of other sports including badminton, tennis, track and field and cycling. However, the greatest injuries seem to result from rugby. The physical aspect of rugby and the commitment of players to tackles, (especially professional rugby) is reflected in the fact that they can obtain injuries anywhere from head to toe!

Do you have any interesting stories you can tell us from your time working at the London 2012 Olympics or Commonwealth Games?

One of the most astounding experiences was during the Commonwealth Games where a wrestler was 30 seconds away from a Gold medal when he injured his knee. Having rushed into the ring, my first instinct was to stop the match. The wrestler himself pleaded with me to let him go on. Being a keen sportsman myself, it dawned on me at that point that this wrestler had probably been working to get to this moment for most of his professional life. I made the call to let him continue.

It was obvious for the last 30 seconds of the match that his opponent knew that his knee was a weakness and tried to target this area. Fortunately, the wrestler hung on for the last 30 seconds and won a Gold medal. I have rarely seen bravery like that. On a purely personal level, I was the on-field Sports Doctor for the football matches at Old Trafford during the Olympics in 2012. As a big football (and in particular Manchester United) fan, it was a dream come true to work with some of the Manchester United players who were representing their countries at Old Trafford.

You were appointed as a sports doctor for the Wrestling events at the Commonwealth Games. Do you think this is a good sport to practice and what are the benefits?

I think all sports promote both physical and mental wellbeing. When I was appointed to cover the wrestling events, my expectations were to encounter individuals like The Rock and Hulk Hogan!! It really took me by surprise when I actually met the wrestlers as they were no different in size to me and you. However what did become clear during the training sessions and the events was the fitness and muscle tone these sportsmen possessed. I have rarely seen such muscle tone, strength and flexibility combined with speed and stamina in other sports.

What measures are taken to protect the athletes playing these different sports and do you think they’re sufficient?

There always has to be a careful balance between allowing individuals to practice the sports they love whilst ensuring they are kept safe. Thankfully the appropriate boards take player safety very seriously and are constantly reviewing, refining and updating their protocols to keep players safe. Of course this filters down from the professional leagues to the amateur environments as well.

What is the worst injury you have had to deal with?

I think all of the serious injuries I have dealt with have been in the rugby environment. One that comes to mind was an occasion where a player was tackled and flew into the adjacent goal post fracturing his femur bone. This is the biggest bone in the human body and you can imagine the force involved where a big muscular rugby player ended up with a broken femur!

Are there any specific techniques or tips you would give the football players to avoid injury?

The most crucial advice I can give is to ensure that players warm up adequately. I completed a Diploma in Football Medicine from FIFA and one of the crucial things I learnt in this programme was about the FIFA 11+. This is an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury prevention program whereby players complete a set of exercises focusing on running, plyometrics, strength and balance. This has been extremely effective in not only limiting and preventing injury but also helping individuals returning to sports following injury.

Do you notice any differences in the injuries you see when working with professional athletes and players?

One of the interesting observations I have made is the higher incidence of stress fractures that I am seeing. I think part of the reason for this, given my expertise, is that I am referred individuals who are active sportsmen or who have sustained sports injuries. Certainly this is not something that I see as regularly in my general practice.

Is there any sports event which you would like to work at but haven’t had the opportunity to yet? 

Monty Panesar

Cricket is my real passion and it was a pleasure recently to treat England spinner Monty Panesar, however one event I have not been involved in so far is Wimbledon. I went to watch it last year as a spectator and it was one of the memorable days I have experienced.

Do you feel the injuries you’ve seen and experiences you have had have helped you in your day to day practice?

Without doubt. Sports people have a completely different perspective and thought process when it comes to their injury and rehabilitation. The insight I have learnt treating people involved with sports allows me to understand the concerns and worries they have which I can translate into my day to day practice.

Are you a sports man yourself and have you ever been injured playing?

Although I am a big football fan, unfortunately I was never much of a footballer. My main sport was cricket where I played for my school, college and subsequently clubs in the Hertfordshire league as a left arm quick bowler. I’m not sure how quick I am these days but I am planning on playing for a local club now that I have moved to the Milton Keynes area. Recreationally I enjoy racquet sports in particular tennis, table tennis and badminton.

Categories: Health

Date: 5th June 2018