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Behind the scenes at QPR: The life of a football physiotherapist

Physios are notoriously known as the ‘magic sponge men’, but there’s obviously more to the job than running on the pitch with a sponge and bucket of water these days.

911: Nigel to the rescue when defensive midfielder Stephane Mbia goes down after a tackle

911: Nigel to the rescue when defensive midfielder Stephane Mbia goes down after a tackle

Nigel Cox, Head physio at QPR sets the record straight on what exactly the job entails.

     “Your absolutely right in thinking that physios are remembered fondly as the ‘sponge man’. In reality, match day coverage plays possibly the smallest aspect of our working week! Indeed the match provides the final piece of the weekly jigsaw in preparing players for a game, and therefore gives us the most enjoyable aspect of our work”.

     However, that’s just the beginning. It’s more or less a 7-day week operation which begins the next day following match day.

     “That working week starts usually the following day, normally Sunday for us, when any injured players from the game report for assessment and treatment with the Physio. If we have a midweek game, the whole squad may even be in for what we term a ‘recovery day’, in an effort to remove lactic acid and waste products from the body, built up in the game”.

     On a typical work day, Nigel divides his attention between two primary objectives – treating injured players through rehabilitation and preparing fit players for training. On top of that, he also provides medical emergency cover pitch side during training similar to match days.

     “We finish our day with a medical and sports science debrief meeting, followed by the entering of notes onto an electronic medical record system to meet medico-legal requirements. So that’s a normal day in the life of a Football Physio. Add to that the management of a large multidisciplinary team that includes masseurs, chiropractor, chiropodist, Pilates instructor, nutritionist, radiographers and physiotherapy students, and you’ll start to get an idea of the level of support now afforded to our athletes.”

     The team constantly travels over the season for matches and tournaments, and this too involves a lot of planning from Nigel.

     “Every other week we travel for an away fixture and sometimes we have a midweek game away from home also. In the olden days, all journeys were made on the club bus, but now, we as clinicians get concerned about the length of time the athlete spends in a seated position for hours and the effect on shortening of the muscles. As a result we push as much as possible for train journeys around the country, and even flights to the further venues. At least, the players can then get up to walk about the carriage or the fuselage and exercise during the journey to keep the muscles active, pretty much as AirAsia customers are encouraged to do so during flight.

     Obviously the further we travel, the more scientific our approach to our players’ welfare becomes, as we have to start preparing to overcome issues such as jet lag, travel sickness, sleep deprivation, dehydration and anxiety issues”.

Matchday mayhem: match day coverage is only a fraction of Nigel’s responsibilites

Matchday mayhem: matchday coverage is only a fraction of Nigel’s responsibilities

As Nigel describes it, the job is full time and full on.

My phone is never off (as my wife would testify!). You become much more than a physio to the lads as strong bonds of trust and knowledge develop between you. When a player has a long term injury,  he may spend more time with me than his family! I once had a call at 2 am to tell me his wife’s waters had broken so what should he do…well find your car keys, get your wife in the car!

     When the coaching staff has a day off, I’m afraid we’re all in because injured players always need treatment, and in the summer they don’t miraculously get fit, so they need to be in over the close season working on their rehabilitation”.

     With such a huge responsibility to shoulder, and hardly any time off, why does he keep doing it?

     “The best part of being a football physiotherapist is undoubtedly the ‘team spirit’, there’s nothing quite like being part of a team operating within a sport that has always been a passion within your life. My father took me as a young boy to regularly watch our local professional team and nurtured my love of the game, so it was a dream to get the opportunity to forge a career within it. The banter from the lads within your camp is incredible, sportsmen and women tend to have a great sense of humour and camaraderie. The staff are made to feel a real part of the team and we feel strong in the knowledge that we are all in it together regardless of the highs or the lows.”

     Along with the rest of the QPR team, Nigel recently visited our part of the world during a pre-season tour in which they toured the region on their very own QPR livery!

     “We managed to experience the hospitality of Air Asia on the dedicated Queens Park Rangers aircraft and I’m delighted to say that the AirAsia staff were fantastic to us and looked after us so well, that all of the travel worries that I usually burden myself with were more than adequately taken care of.

     The trip itself was truly memorable for us all, as not only the AirAsia staff’s welcome, but that of every person in that wonderful region was so friendly towards us, the fond memories will last forever, and we look forward to the next time!” 


Nigel gives us a peek inside the physio’s bag:

Bag of iced water

For effective cooling to place on the injury

Glue and stapler

For immediate wound care if we can avoid wasted time stitching a player

“Maglite” small torch

For torch for checking pupil reaction in suspected concussion


These are usually tied to my bag so that I cannot accidentally leave them lying on the grass in the heat of dealing with an incident


     Then there are the usual essentials – menthol rub to aid breathing, smelling salts, antiseptic wash, sun cream, deep heat rub, various immediate medicines, individuals contact lenses and an EpiPen are all in there as are various dressings and tapes for emergency strappings.

     I have a breath mask and various size airways to aid with life-saving techniques in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.

     Beyond that it’s the time-saving items that you just might need in a hurry for a player like spare laces, studs and of course a full kit of shirt, shorts and socks in the event of a blood injury. You like to keep the run on bag as light as possible but as you can see, that’s not always possible!