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  • Writer's pictureRachel Neylan, OLY

An Athlete-Coach Approach to Musculoskeletal (MSK) Care

Among the top echelon of global sport, successful coach/athlete relationships are increasingly becoming one of the fundamental determinants of performance. The rise of global streaming, documentaries, podcasts, and social media insights gives us a backstage pass to discover how athletes think, train and perform. Usually, the coach is also not far from the limelight.

I've always had a coach, holding this relationship in the highest regard. We can be effective at self-analysis, but to elevate beyond and push human performance to greater heights it takes another eye, perspective, insight and experience to steer the ship.

As a practitioner, I treated my patients like athletes no matter their condition. I took care to establish a strategy with their end goal, set target milestones and provide clear feedback along the way. It was an approach that most often pushed my patients into discomfort zones but revealed a pathway to their actual potential.

We can draw a convenient comparison between the coach/athlete dynamic and the practitioner/patient relationship. An athlete and coach will always devise a strategy toward performance outcomes with plotted goals along the way, while the same is true for practitioner and patients.

Over the years, I’ve monitored my own performance and progress with a ‘training diary’, a platform which houses all my power data and performance metrics. This practice holds me accountable and motivated. It also helps my coach and I better understand performance trends or when I need to change the focus.

The same can be applied to musculoskeletal (MSK) rehabilitation. The feedback from this training diary helps trigger my brain’s reward system. The mesolimbic dopamine system, (also known as the brain’s reward pathways) plays an imperative role in our learning. Positive optical feedback activates dopamine neurons in the brain, reinforcing the performance or rehabilitation work done and improvements made.

This hardwired reward system, when activated by visual information, is pivotal in achieving our athletic or rehabilitative goals.

As professional athletes we have many tools at our disposal to activate these dopamine pathways that propel us toward our performance goals. Engaging patients toward better health and recovery ALSO lies providing in objective, visual feedback about their work and improvement.

It all starts with the desired outcome. For me, my coach directs training toward my peak performance weeks based on the team race schedule. Therefore, I train, eat, sleep, and compete accordingly to reach the right physiological peaks at the right time.

Treating patients as an athlete starts with putting THEIR outcomes and goals at the heart of communication and the treatment plan. Focusing communication on those goals supports engagement, compliance and trust throughout the course of rehabilitation.

Encompassing elements of high-performance athletics in MSK healthcare is gaining momentum. As practitioners are easily able to utilize technology for goal setting, communication, and use movement data/visualizations to monitor patient progress, engagement is inevitable and will give rise to radical advancements in MSK care.

Let’s embrace this paradigm shift toward high performance movement health to potentiate successful patient outcomes, and most importantly, embed lifelong movement quality for all.

About Rachel Neylan, linedanceAI Advisor and Ambassador

Rachel Neylan is a professional road cyclist and Olympian currently competing on the Women’s World Tour racing circuit. In just five years, Rachel forged her own pathway from a practicing Sydney-based physiotherapist to becoming a World Championship silver medalist road cyclist. Twelve years later, Rachel continues to represent Australia racing on a world-class cycling team in Europe.

After earning a B.App.Sc in Physiotherapy from the University of Sydney, Rachel worked as a practicing physiotherapist with some of Australia’s top athletes. Completing the Oxford University Women’s Leadership Development Programme has strengthened her ability to share insights and experiences, and lead by positively influencing others. While still racing professionally on the world stage, Rachel is also an advisor to health and sports focused companies. We are super excited and honored to have Rachel on our team at linedanceAI guiding us with the lens of both a practitioner and athlete. She is also sharing her insights about movement and movement quality metrics as a contributor to the linedanceAI Movality blog.

Rachel's Website and LinkedIn profile

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