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  • Writer's pictureIan Pulczynski

Mitchell Stamatellis: Mixing football and physiotherapy

Whether it is all age, NPL, or professional football, injuries can, unfortunately, occur to anyone at any time on the pitch. Many players are often uncertain about how to treat their discomfort correctly.

Physiotherapists specialise in the knowledge and assistance that helps footballers and other athletes overcome injuries across all parts of the human body.

Sutherland Sharks centre-back Mitchell Stamatellis has practised physiotherapy for over ten years, along with his wealth of NPL NSW football experience. He spoke exclusively to Front Page Football, giving insight and tips into how physiotherapists operate, how footballers can recover properly, and how to study whilst playing competitive football.

Mitchell Stamatellis has experience working as a physio for Sydney FC's women's team. Source: Dan Ullman

Stamatellis' passion for studying physiotherapy began when he was battling a personal injury.

"I was around 13, 14 years of age when I got injured," he said.

"I got a condition called Sever's which is common amongst adolescents growing up, and it's when there's traction of the Achilles on the growth plate.

"So I had to go to a physio for that, who also helped me with rehab advice, and that's where my interest stems. Since then, I've been very interested in it."

Stamatellis graduated from Sydney University in 2012 and is now entering his eleventh year of practice. The Sharks centre-back, who has also worked as a physio for Sydney FC's women's team, explained what a physiotherapist must examine.

"The purpose of a physiotherapist is to assess, diagnose, and treat musculoskeletal and neurological conditions," Stamatellis said.

"Physiotherapy mainly involves the body's anatomy, such as bones, joints, and muscles, identifying problems and rectifying them with patients who suffer pain, stress, or weakness.

"Ankle and hamstring strains are the most common forms of injuries in football," he added.

"Ligament tears in the ankles and knees are quite common. However, it's hamstring strains that are particularly frequent amongst male footballers."

Habitual routines such as stretching and cooling down sessions are fundamental for any footballer in helping to avoid injuries. However, Stamatellis explained that there are different ways to reduce frequent injuries and speed up recovery timeframes.

"A good warm-up is very important," he said.

"We used to think that stretching did have a big role in reducing injuries just a few years ago. But recent evidence and literature has shown that it doesn't have as big of an impact as previously assumed.

Stretching remains a key component in reducing injuries. Source: The Mercury

"We've transitioned away from stretching and cool downs to more jumping into a pool and doing more active recovery along with dynamic movements.

"In regards to rehab, the best recovery is really just a good night's sleep and a good meal.

"There is evidence that if you get less than six hours of sleep, your likelihood of injuries increases, so [physios] try and encourage that. Sleep and rest is more important than stretching, in my opinion.

"Sleep is when the body repairs itself. If you're not sleeping well, then your likelihood of injuries increases.

"It is an imperative part of recovery, not only physically but mentally, as you won't be properly switched on if you go to training.

"Not getting sufficient rest will affect your neuromuscular activation pattern, which means you won't be firing to go. You're more likely to get injured and delay your rehab because it is not working well."

Regarding footballers, many aspects go into injury prevention, including sleep and rest. However, a critical external factor is playing surfaces and their impact on increasing the likelihood of injuries.

The construction of artificial pitches across Australia remains a controversial topic. Former Adelaide United captain Michael Jakobsen and Adelaide City captain Matthew Halliday highlighted concerns with this surface type in past interviews with FPF.

On the one hand, it is relatively cheaper to maintain and reduces the possibility of extreme weather forcing matches to be postponed throughout the season.

However, injuries such as one to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are prevalent on artificial surfaces. This trend continues to rise in Australia.

Stamatellis explained that the consistency of specific playing surfaces is vital in avoiding injuries.

"In Australia, it's very difficult as our weather patterns make it hard to maintain good quality grass pitches," he said.

"From my personal footballer view, you can't beat a good quality grass pitch than artificial, and your body would tend to react better on real grass than an astro pitch.

An artificial grass surface, Seymour Shaw Park is the home of the Sutherland Sharks. Source: Football NSW

"Overall, the quality of astro pitches is getting better. But it's more important when it comes to loads.

"As physios, we don't see too many excessive injuries when someone is training on astro pitches regularly. Our body has the ability to adapt to the demand we place on it, and we've had issues when it isn't frequent.

"If you train on astro, then to grass, back to astro, and then again to grass - that's what our body doesn't like. As long as there is consistency both in training and in games in regards to the surface, the chances of picking up injuries are less likely."

Physiotherapists can also work alongside professional dieticians and nutritionists to offer routines and eating habits that help prevent athletes from recurring injuries and ensure their recovery speeds up.

"We work together with dieticians and nutritionists, who give out more specific advice in regards to what to eat and what not to eat," Stamatellis added.

"However, in particular after training or when you are injured, it is important to ingest a bit of protein for recovery as it helps stimulate repair.

"A good diet is not only important from an injury point of view but significantly important from an energy point of view, especially within young female athletes.

"I've dealt with a lot of female football players, and because of their menstrual cycles, they've encountered issues such as energy deficiency as a result of low iron. That is when I recommend seeing someone with more knowledge within nutrition or dietary to make sure they weren't lacking energy."

Stamatellis exemplifies how semi-professional NPL footballers juggle football and full-time employment. He recommends that upcoming university students consider studying physiotherapy.

"It's a fantastic job," Stamatellis said.

"You see people in discomfort, and you can make them better. You have the ability to change people's lives.

"It's hard work, it's long hours, especially in private practice, but you are able to have a positive impact on people's lives within healthcare.

Stamatellis explained that while physiotherapy is a challenging study, it can reap a lot of rewards. Source: Sydney University

"I would encourage [high school students] to study physiotherapy. It's a good job to have a balance where I can work and also play competitive football.

"Focus on your studies if you're in school; it's a big priority. Personally, education is more important than football. Playing NPL football along with studying physiotherapy is a great balance, as you can play a good level and at the same time potentially generate a full-time income in the future."

On the pitch, Stamatellis and the Sutherlands Sharks will host APIA Leichhardt at Seymour Shaw Park this Saturday night in round six NPL NSW action.

Click here to read more of FPF's NPL content.


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