Football to Physio: How Simon bounced back from injury

Chris Brunner Senior Content Producer for hospitals and clinical services at Nuffield Health More by this author
Simon Webster was a rising star on the cusp of a promising Premier League career when injury brought his life crashing down around him. But his very recovery would teach him to turn his injury into an opportunity – and now he’s helping others get back on their feet.

It’s 1993. Simon Webster is three weeks into pre-season training with West Ham United FC – his first Premier League club, an opportunity of a lifetime. An enthusiastic teammate slides and Simon’s leg buckles beneath him. In an instant, he suffers a double fracture to his right leg and his Premier League debut is over - before it can begin.

Simon says he doesn’t remember feeling any pain. Not of a physical kind anyway. But his knowledge of the human body told him he had a serious injury. The worst thing was he’d been here before. Just over three years earlier - playing in the FA Cup for Sheffield United - he was challenging a Mansfield Town centre-forward when a teammate slide-tackled the opposition player and took out Simon in the process. His leg was broken in two places.

After the first break, Doctors said he wouldn’t play for two years. Simon took this as a personal challenge. Determined to get back to full fitness, he started reading about fractures, bone healing and how to rehabilitate.

“I wanted to understand the process I was going through. In the end I planned my own rehabilitation programme,” he says.

Engrossed with the healing powers of the human body, Simon began to help develop rehab plans for other injured players too. He was back on the pitch in 10 months and was soon playing the best football of his life as captain of Charlton Athletic.

His triumphant return to football helped to nurture his interest in the human body. He embarked on an FA Treatment of Injuries course and passed with flying colours. Football was still his first love, but a new seed had been planted.

The West Ham selection was further proof that his recovery plan had worked - he’d faced serious injury and risen to the top. But this time it wouldn’t be so easy to recover.

“The second break left me slightly shorter on my right leg, which affected everything. I just had this deep underlying concern that the injury was going to end my career as a professional footballer.”

Again, Simon led his own recovery and got back to playing within a year. He even managed to achieve his dream - playing a handful of games in the Premier League for West Ham. But it wasn’t to last. He soon suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle - an indirect consequence of his shortened right leg. Frustrated and angry, Simon retired from the professional game in 1995, aged just 31.

A new path

It was crushing for Simon to admit that his football career was over. But not all was lost. Ever since his first major injury at Sheffield, Simon had continued to study anatomy and physiology. With a little encouragement from his physio at West Ham, he decided physiotherapy was an obvious career choice – but it was still a daunting prospect.

“I had to start again, I didn’t have the qualifications to get into university, so I had to pass my A levels first,” says Simon.

But he went for it. Simon passed his A levels and graduated from university with first class honours. Within a few years of launching his new career, he was back at West Ham United full time as their second physio.

“I know better than most people that a physical injury can be a very emotional experience. I wanted to help players and clients through that difficult journey,” he says.

Three years later, Simon moved on from the club and became Medical Team Leader at Gillingham FC before finally coming to Nuffield Health in 2006.

As an employee of Nuffield Health, Simon went back to university to complete a Master’s degree.

“I wanted to develop my skills as much as possible. When I was a footballer I wanted to be at the top. That hasn’t changed.”

Simon now manages a team of physiotherapists at City Gym, and is a driving force behind a state-of-the-art Sport’s Injury Performance Centre (SIPC), which launches at the gym in 2016.

The facility boasts a hi-tech treadmill and Watt bike with a camera network that allows the team of physiotherapists and physiologists to gather performance data from participants. The information is then used to assess how past injuries affect physical performance and how movements can be adjusted to protect from future injuries.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve function and performance in our clients and get them back to doing what they love. And I love being a part of that.”

Thursday 17 September 2015

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