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Harris & Ross physios on representing Great Britain at Taekwondo

Posted on October 14th, 2015

Ever had physiotherapy from an international athlete? Well, this is where Harris & Ross stand out, because amongst our team are Martin McDaid and Nathan Hall, who in the past have represented Great Britain in Taekwondo.

In the run up to the Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester from 16th – 18th October, they’ve given us some insight about competing at the very top and overcoming the injuries that the sport throws at them.

Six time National Champion, World and Commonwealth medallist, Nathan Hall tells us why Taekwondo is one of the best competitive sports going at the moment.   

Nathan-Hall-new-232x300The Olympic Games is without question, the greatest sporting event on earth. Around 10,000 athletes from 206 countries will battle out for the 306 medals and a chance to cement their place in the history books, in what will be the pinnacle of their careers.

With only around 1 year left until Rio, the world’s top 250 Taekwondo athletes will descend on Manchester in the coming weeks for the 3rd Grand Prix of 2015 in a bid to grab valuable ranking points and book their place on the plane next summer.  The top six athletes in each one of the eight weight categories can qualify automatically via ranking events, such as the World Grand Prix series. The stakes are high and with the Olympics only coming round every four years, it’s vital to take your chance as the opportunity may only present itself once or twice in an athlete’s entire career.

Since its introduction as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics, Taekwondo has evolved to the point where it is almost unrecognisable from its original format. Following the controversy and accusations of corruption back in Beijing, the World Taekwondo Federation set out to make Taekwondo a more transparent, dynamic and exciting sport. Almost eight years on and the world governing body are to be commended for doing an excellent job in achieving this objective.

Taekwondo now enjoys unprecedented levels of participation across the world and has successfully retained its status as a full Olympic sport. To make the sport more transparent and exciting, a number of key changes to the competition format were made.  Contests are now fought over 3 x 2 minute rounds in a smaller octagon shaped competition area to encourage competitors to be more active during matches. More dynamic techniques such as head shots are rewarded with more points to encourage competitors to take a risk. Electronic protective equipment is now used that automatically registers scores thus minimising the subjectivity of the judges. High definition video replays are used in instances where the technology can’t quite make up its mind.

Modern Olympic Taekwondo embodies a unique blend of eastern cultural tradition and 21st century technology. 

Martin-McDaid-new-232x300Great Britain head into the home Grand Prix in strong form, having firmly established themselves as one the strongest nations in the world over the last ten years. At this year’s World Championships in Russia, Great Britain finished 5th place overall out of 182 participating nations. On another day, with a few strokes of luck, that position might have been enhanced further still. Team GB now enjoys a real depth of talent, owed partly to the significant investment made by UK Sport through National Lottery funding; but also due to the efforts of the current Performance Director, Gary Hall whose vision of establishing Great Britain as a global force, has been realised through strategic long term planning and investment.

Manchester has been home to the national team since the Centre of Operations was relocated from Loughborough University in 2007. In partnership with Manchester City Council, Sport England and UK Sport, GB Taekwondo recently made a £2.7 million investment in expanding its current academy in East Manchester, therefore acquiring a status equivalent to and in most cases better than anywhere else in the world.

At the upcoming Grand Prix the host nation boasts some real stars of the modern game, each with their own story to tell. Current Olympic Champion Jade Jones, will be looking to further assert her dominance as the current World Number 1 in the – 57kg division. Current World Heavyweight Champion, Bianca Walkden will be looking to edge closer to safely confirm her place at next summer’s games, with another good run out. Her comeback from two consecutive ACL reconstruction’s in the space of two years, to go on to becoming the Queen of the + 67kg division, is nothing short of inspirational. For the men, Damon Samsun competes in the fiercely competitive -80kg division, lining up another potentially explosive encounter with former GB athlete Arron Cooke. Damon, a World Champion kick boxer, who having previously progressed through GB Taekwondo ‘fighting chance’ initiative 5 years ago, has developed from an unorthodox cross code martial artist into a world class Taekwondo athlete and the current World and European Silver medallist.

A Junior British Champion at 15, a National Adult Champion and secured second place in the 2004 European Championship, Martin looks at the injury aspects of Taekwondo:

As Taekwondo is a full contact sport, athletes can sustain injuries due to trauma as well as overuse; common injuries are lower limb strains, knee ligament injuries and broken bones. Unfortunately as a previous international competitor, I have experienced all these types of injuries myself! However, evidence suggests that as a Taekwondo competitor’s skill level increases, so too does the injury rate, so maybe I wasn’t so bad after all.

As per World Taekwondo Federations recommendations, all athletes at the Manchester Grand Prix will be black belt level or above, therefore this suggests there are going to be some busy physio teams this month. Although, it is not just about these 3 days for the athletes and their performance teams; all the athletes will have had a long thorough preparation for this competition. The best science will have been used from sports medicine, nutrition, psychology and strength and conditioning to help the athlete be in the top condition possible and give them that edge when on the mat. This is essential in sport as more often than not, the difference between success and failing is due to the preparation.

From a physiotherapist perspective, it is not surprising that lower limbs are the most injured body part.  The rules in Taekwondo emphasise on kicking and when kicking, it is not only the leg that is at risk of injury; for example, the adductor muscles are at risk during the swing phase, however the standing leg is also at risk as the adductors are important stabilisers of the hip. As a result, groin pain is very common in kicking sport and if inadequate rehabilitation is provided chronic groin pain can occur, therefore I would recommend anyone suffering from this to seek medical advice.

Due to the ballistic nature of Taekwondo, other common muscle injuries are hamstring and calf strains. If these occur in competition, it will result in the athlete having to withdraw and rehabilitation will commence to limit damage/swelling (RICE and massage), restore normal movement, strength and fitness (manual therapy, strength training, sport specific fitness/balance training) to enable full return to sport as quickly and safely as possible. To reduce the risk of these injuries, the athletes will have previously been screened for injury risk/movement dysfunction. This will enable each athlete to have a specific flexibility, strength and stability programme prescribed, which the athlete would complete prior to and during the season.

Injuries are often unavoidable in sport, I regrettably missed a World Championships due to a knee ligament injury. Physiotherapy involving strength and proprioception training is essential rehab for knee injuries and depending on the type of tendon injury, you may require a brace or even surgery to allow effective healing. An injured knee can be limp, which has a significant effect to your stability; this would be detrimental to a Taekwondo athlete, as they spend most of the competition balancing on one leg trying to kick the other person in the head.

The British team chosen to compete at the forthcoming Grand Prix has a wealth of proven world class talent within its ranks and will go into the event confident, determined to make a statement in front of the partisan crowd ahead of Rio. Whatever the outcome for the British contingent, the sparks are set to fly which is sure to make intriguing viewing for both the die-hard fan and the complete novice alike.

Good luck Team GB – we are all behind you.

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