Sports fans may not have noticed Sharon Wan as she gave her full support to the Hong Kong women's rugby team in the 2010 Asian Games, but the players will never forget her role as their sports physiotherapist.
Wan is the clinic manager of the sports rehabilitation unit at the Polytechnic University's department of rehabilitation sciences. She says the most exciting aspect of her job is working with athletes in the field.
"The Asian Games proved to be an unforgettable experience for me. I remember that it was the final day.
A player sprained her ankle badly and could barely walk. We were only four to five hours away from the kick-off to the bronze medal game. I did all I could to treat her and in the end she was fine enough to play. But after the game, she was on crutches again. It was an emotional game and the entire team cried when they lost [to Thailand]. I couldn't help but cry with them. I felt I was part of the team," she says.
A physiotherapist has to update coaches and team managers on the condition of athletes. "Coaches consult me whether a player can continue playing or not, and I have to make judgment calls quickly. I help players warm up before games and give them in-game treatment. I need to work fast. There is no time for mistakes," Wan says.
In Hong Kong, sports therapists only attend to players on a case-to-case basis. Most of their time is spent in the clinic treating patients with sports injuries. "Many patients assume that physical injuries such as a sprained ankle can be treated with just a painkiller, but sports physiotherapists do more than that. Patients who come to us are interested in playing sports and they want to regain their form. Aside from relieving their pain, I have to teach them to do exercises that can strengthen their muscles and help them get back into shape," Wan says.
Sports physiotherapists usually make use of electrotherapy and manual therapy. "They must have good communication skills to provide the correct treatment. It is also important to stay physically fit to help patients with workouts and join them on the field," Wan says.
In Hong Kong, only Polytechnic University offers a bachelor's degree in physiotherapy. Fresh graduates who pass the board are usually employed as physiotherapists and get a monthly pay of around HK$20,000.
As they gain more experience, they become more involved in management and less so with looking after patients.