The guys who fix our broken men
City Press gets to know two physios who work wonders on injured soccer players
The first people who run to the field when a player is down are the physiotherapists. Not only that, they are also the last ones, with doctors, to advise on whether a player can continue with play. Physiotherapists make sure players are in a good enough condition to take to the field. And when a player is injured, they are in charge of the rehabilitation process. Ever wondered why Orlando Pirates’ goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo was back to the field before the projected lay-off period was over? He was meant to be out of action for at least three months after suffering a knee injury, but was between the sticks again within six weeks. He was on the bench when Pirates took on Étoile du Sahel in the CAF Confederation Cup final in Soweto and travelled with the team to Tunisia for the second leg.
It’s often thanks to physios, such as those from Phaswana and Mazibuko Rehabilitation Services, that players can return to action ahead of time.
Room 939 of the Louis Pasteur Private Hospital is the go-place for crocked players. The Pretoria-based physiotherapists’ consulting room is a hive of activity, not only for sportspeople, but patients who want to return to active lives.
Many players have limped to the hospital in Pretoria to visit Lutendo Phaswana (37) and Sipho Mazibuko (39), who met at the Medical University of SA (Medunsa), now the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, when studying towards a BSc in physiotherapy. The two have established a good working relationship with Orlando Pirates, as most of their players are now cared for by the duo.
They are fast becoming the go-to physios for many football players because of their effectiveness and purported “healing power”.
“This is where we have saved many players’ careers,” quipped Phaswana during a City Press visit to the hospital last week. “We don’t have any secrets – we just apply the basic principles of medicine. We are there to treat patients through physical means and facilitate body repair.”
They have already helped the likes of Siyabonga Sangweni, Rooi Mahamutsa and William Twala to get back on their feet.
Pirates captain Oupa Manyisa is undergoing rehabilitation on his ankle at their practice and they believe it will not be long before he rejoins his team-mates.
Mazibuko disclosed that, contrary to what many people believe, physiotherapists are first-line practitioners and one does not need a referral letter to consult them.
Whereas other physios focus on making sure patients regain movement and are able to get back to normal life, Phaswana says their priority is making sure that athletes can return to the field as soon as possible.
The duo managed to near-miraculously get an injured Andile Jali back to goalscoring ways within two days. “He was scheduled for a shoulder operation on a Thursday after he did an MRI scan, which found he had a tear. He could not lift his shoulder 90 degrees. We saw him before the operation and helped to relieve the pain by aligning his bones and re-educating the muscle,” said Mazibuko.
“This worked wonders, as he was fit to play on the Saturday in the MTN8 final and even scored from the penalty spot. If you remember his celebration, it was like he was flapping wings – to show that his shoulder was okay.” They also managed to have Mhlongo back in action before the projected time. “It was reported that Brighton would be out for up to three months, but we managed to get him back within six weeks. When he first came here, we asked him what his wish was and he said he’d be happy if he could be back before the Confed Cup final – and we managed exactly that, partly because of his commitment to the programme and his mental strength,” said Mazibuko.
Their practice has been in existence for more than two years, but was only registered officially this year.
“Our aim is to empower black physios, as we have realised we are still lagging behind. We need to increase the interest among black people because there is a need for more physios in the country. We have already started mentorship programmes at Tembisa Hospital and George Mukhari in Ga-Rankuwa as a way of giving back to our communities. Moreover, we are sponsoring one final-year student at Medunsa because we are also external examiners there.”
Phaswana said he got into the profession after being exposed to the field when his cousin was attended to by physios.
“The first ‘Dr’ I saw when I grew up was a physiotherapist because one of my cousins was struggling with movement. He would come to stretch him and help with his movement, and that’s how I got hooked. And it had a fancy name.”
As for Mazibuko, he was exposed to the profession through football. “I was injured when I was in high school and my first encounter with a physio was something else. The treatment was different, and I was fascinated by the approach.”
They have no intention of joining any club and prefer to work on a consultancy basis.
“We do what we love and we love what we do.”
NOT OUT Jali almost miraculously played in the final of the MTN8 against Platinum Stars 10 days later
DOWN Andile Jali was injured in a league game against Polokwane City in 2013
HARD AT WORK Mazibuko (right)
Lutendo Phaswana (left) and Sipho
DOCTOR’S ORDERS Phaswana says he has a formula to help players return to action quicker