Therapy zone home of grim realities

Head therapist Vicky Wiltshire leading efforts to return athletes to action 

Vicky Wiltshire has been working at Queen’s since 1998.
Vicky Wiltshire has been working at Queen’s since 1998.

Though most varsity athletes could tell you all about the various parts of the ARC, few would list the Therapy Zone as their favourite.

The Therapy Zone, located on the first lower level of the ARC, is often a dreaded place for an athlete to visit. Entering its doors signifies time lost due to injury.

But for these same athletes, it’s also the start of the road back. The therapy team, led by Vicky Wiltshire, works with all injured varsity athletes to help them return  to full strength and to the lineup.  

Wiltshire has worked at Queen’s since 1998 and has been the Head Therapist since 2009. 

The most important thing for Wiltshire and her staff is ensuring athletes don’t return to the field before they’re ready — which isn’t always an easy thing.

“It is challenging, especially around playoff time,” she said. “But in the end, it has to be safe for the athlete.” 

Wanting to get back in the game is something Jordan Coccimiglio is familiar with. After injuring his shoulder and receiving surgery, the third-year forward on the men’s hockey team spent much of the last season recovering. 

“It wasn’t easy sitting on the sidelines and watching your team battle every day,” he said.

But he added that a good mindset helped, as he focused on the long-term benefits of not playing, knowing that a premature return might lead to further injury and an even longer absence.

Since most athletes are over 18, and therefore legal adults, the decision to return is ultimately theirs, Wiltshire said. “If something is kind of borderline, and the athlete is really insistent on playing, we certainly do go over the risks with them on what could potentially happen if they decide to play with it.”

If a situation is clearly unsafe, the therapy team will insist that an athlete doesn’t play. Balancing the pressure to return to the game with the necessity for a healthy athlete is one of the toughest parts of the job for someone in therapy. And while it can produce dissatisfaction on all sides, Wiltshire and her team do what they need to.

“We need to make sure it’s safe for athletes to get back to their teams,” she said.  

The therapy team uses a multifaceted process, beginning with an initial assessment of the injured athlete by a certified therapist, where the cause of the injury, the extent of the pain and the strength of the affected area are examined. After examining the athlete’s general biomechanics to see how things are working in relation to each other, the team creates a treatment plan.

“[The plan] would include a lot of manual therapy, maybe modality, like an ultrasound, and almost always an exercise portion.”  

Therapists are also in constant contact with coaches and the strength and conditioning staff, working together to ensure practices and workouts are adjusted — or stopped — according to the athlete’s injury.  

While rehab is an important part of the Therapy Zone’s work, Wiltshire said their relationship with the School of Kinesiology is vital. The two groups have partnered to create a mini-stream of student athletic trainers who work with the Therapy Zone in a three-year program.

Students in this highly competitive program learn the ropes of the job in a hands-off program before becoming junior and then senior trainers placed with varsity teams. This gives students valuable practical experience in the field and enables teams to have additional therapists on-site at their games.

With all of her duties, Wiltshire knows her primary role is her patients: varsity athletes at Queen’s.

“My number one role is to advocate on behalf of the athletes,” she said.

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