Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Highlighting gaps in sports physiotherapy and sports medicine research and education
  1. Genevieve Renaud1,2,
  2. Christopher Napier3
  1. 1 Sport Physiotherapy Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2 Ottawa Osteopathy & Sports Therapy, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3 Department of Biomedical Physiology & Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University Faculty of Science, Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Christopher Napier, Department of Biomedical Physiology & Kinesiology, Simon Fraser University Faculty of Science, Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; cnapier{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Continuing education is the cornerstone of most healthcare professional member organisations. Sport Physiotherapy Canada (SPC) is recognised as an international leader in continuing education for sport physiotherapists. SPC’s Fundamental and Advanced Core Competency Courses were designed as an avenue for physiotherapists to upgrade their knowledge and practical skills in the field of sport physiotherapy, sport science and sport medicine and ensure that Canada’s competitive and recreational athletes receive a standard quality of care from physiotherapists working in sport. SPC’s Credential Program is the only professional development pathway in Canada whose requirements and standards have been approved by the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy for SPC diploma holders to gain recognition as a Registered International Sports Physical Therapist.

Inherent to postgraduate education is the necessity to change and adapt—both to current trends and to exposed gaps. Both systematic reviews in this issue investigate areas of sport medicine that are significantly under-researched: the paper by Beisecker L et al identifies, quantifies and analyses determinants of depression, anxiety and stress symptoms among female student-athletes (see page 278) while Hassett L et al evaluates the effects of sport or physical recreation on participation, mobility and quality of life for adults living with disabilities (see page 269) . Disabilities are defined in this article as ‘those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’. Much progress has been made in recent years to improve research, educational opportunities and access to care for cis-gendered female athletes and athletes with physical disabilities. However, significant gaps continue to be present for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Out of the 74 trials included in this review, only four included people with intellectual disabilities.

support from the sport physiotherapy community

The Special Olympics movement, now a global initiative empowering athletes with intellectual disabilities, was inspired by the research of Dr Frank Hayden. In the early 1960s, Dr Hayden—a sport scientist at the University of Toronto studying children at Toronto’s Beverley School—debunked the prevailing notion that intellectual disabilities inherently limited physical fitness. He demonstrated that with proper opportunities, individuals with intellectual disabilities could develop sport skills and improve their fitness levels. Sport could have a transformative effect on the lives of those with an intellectual disability. This research not only challenged existing perceptions but also laid the groundwork for the first Special Olympics in Chicago in 1968, an event that Dr Hayden played a pivotal role in organising. Special Olympics Canada has been a leader in improving access to sports and physical activity and removing barriers to access to healthcare. Special Olympics offers access to a variety of sports including coaching and accepting teammates. This positive environment builds confidence for athletes, allows participants to try new sports and provides better access to facilities and equipment.

Almost every Canadian province has a physiotherapist appointed as clinical director of the Fun Fitness programme. This programme includes a musculoskeletal screen, balance testing and cardiovascular assessment for its athletes with a goal of preventing injury and screening for potential medical issues. We asked some of the current clinical directors why they thought physiotherapists did not currently work with people with intellectual disabilities. They expressed that there is ‘a lack of awareness of opportunities, a fear of not knowing how to manage these patients, stigma, a belief that the Special Olympics is not high-performance, and a general decline in volunteerism across our country’.

Sport Physiotherapy Canada: filling the education gap

Healthcare for people with intellectual disabilities is not currently included in our educational programmes. Our educational pathway introduces physiotherapy care for athletes with physical disabilities but lacks a module on healthcare for athletes with intellectual disabilities. We are excited to be hosting an upcoming webinar that will address ableism and focus on the inaccessibility of appropriate medical treatment for athletes with a disability (physical or intellectual).

Our national association is also excited to support new initiatives with the Special Olympics. Sport Physiotherapy Canada manages calls for multisport games health services teams which includes national-level opportunities and international games. This pathway provides our top athletes with access to high-level healthcare during sporting events. Until this year, no sponsored medical team programme existed for our National Special Olympics events, but athletes competing at the upcoming Special Olympics Canada Winter Games will be supported by a team of sport physiotherapists. We will be advocating for this ongoing funding to ensure Special Olympians continue to have access to high-level care while competing at the national level.

As a trailblazer in the international sport physiotherapy education sector, we hope that other national sport physiotherapy and sport medicine organisations around the globe will follow our example and incorporate training and education for sport physiotherapists and physicians to work with this deserving and undersupported population of athletes.


  • Twitter @runnerphysio

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.