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Physio Ben Ashworth on judo's road to recovery

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GB Judo physio ready for European Championships

By Ben Ashworth
Physiotherapist, English Institute of Sport

The aim of the game is, basically, to launch your opponent up in the air and onto their back. As judo has one of the highest injury rates of all the Olympic sports, I inevitably see a lot of injuries, some pretty severe.

I am the lead physiotherapist with GB Judo and this weekend I'll be in Istanbul for the European Championships.

Based at the British Judo Performance Institute in Dartford, my remit is twofold: to prevent Britain's best fighters from coming to any significant harm and to get them back to full fitness if they do get injured.

We are at a critical point in our run-up to the London Olympics so we don't want to see any injuries but with the athletes preparing to take on Europe's best in Istanbul, the intensity of their training will increase and with it their potential risk of injury.

There is a lot we can do to reduce the risk of injury so a lot of our work is preventative - we screen players, identify their specific weaknesses and produce an individualised programme for each judoka.

Kelly Edwards
Edwards has a training programme focused on hip strength

For example, with Kelly Edwards, her programme now focuses on hip strength and stability.

She'll do 20 minutes of targeted conditioning six days a week, consisting of 10 minutes balance work, five minutes of her own judo-specific drills against band resistance and then a bit of 'ice hockey' to finish on our slide board.

This complements her lifting programme, where we have focused on coaching her technique to build robustness around her hips.

If one of our fighters has a serious injury, Dr Craig White and I have 'rapid reaction' protocols. We make sure they see the best specialists, set up surgery if it's required and plan their 'return to play pathway', which is another way of saying 'getting them back fighting fit!'.

Although judo has the potential for a wide variety of injuries, the worst and most frequent injuries involve the knee. I've seen broken toes and judoka lose consciousness from being choked out on the mat but most longer term injuries involve ligament damage to the knee.

The worst single injury I've seen is a multi-ligament knee injury which kept a player out for over a year.

A lot of these injuries happen when the fighters are off balance while trying to throw their opponent. In these situations they often put a lot of load and twisting force through one knee, which puts the ligaments under huge stresses and causes them to tear or rupture.

It's a massively debilitating injury and can put most judoka out of action for many months.

Gemma Howell
Howell is set to compete at her first European Championships

One of our top prospects for the Europeans is Gemma Howell. She's 20-years-old now but in 2009 she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at a training camp in Poland and was out of competition for nine months.

With Gemma it was a long process that started with getting her learning how to move because there is a lot of muscle wastage and the knee is very stiff after surgery.

We then used a balance ball and gradually built up muscle mass to the point where she could replicate all of the moves in judo. Essentially, she relearned to throw and sweep.

It was also a time to work on technical weaknesses and her coach thinks she came back a better fighter for it.

Gemma used a load of different tricks from the toolbox, she quickly mastered the BOSU balance half ball and was able to perform some extremely gymnastic moves on this at a very early stage.

We also got her on the mat as soon as possible with Kate Howey her coach and head coach Patrick Roux.

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There's so much that you can do even at a very early stage that keeps the athlete focused on judo throughout even the longest of rehab processes.

I think we did a really good job with Gemma because she was initially a little bit wary but now she says it's something she no longer thinks about.

She also flew back in to competition with a gold medal at her first event back - the European Cup in London last year. That's the rewarding bit!

The other significant part of my role is joining the team at camps and competitions abroad so I have a pretty intimate relationship with the judoka.

Ahead of a competition, they are getting in the zone, fully focused and it's important that we're there to provide anything they need, whether it be strapping to secure their knocks and bruises or helping with their warm up and stretching.

I'm not sure it's written in my contract but recently I even ended up driving the team coach from Dartford to a training camp in Paris.

Our immediate focus is on the European Judo Championships, starting on 21 April, followed by a fortnight in Russia at the Moscow Grand Slam in May and then we think the Rio Grand Slam in June, but more about that next time…


Ben Ashworth is lead physiotherapist for the English Institute of Sport (EIS) in London and lead physiotherapist for British Judo, where he is responsible for the day to day prehabilitation and rehabilitation of players on site at the British Judo Performance Institute in Dartford.

He was speaking to BBC World Olympic Dreams' Paul Harris.



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