Sporting Life

From nail polish remover to ring cutter, physio is ready for anything

CPR mask. Finger splints. Knee brace. Blister kit.

Lindsey Ayala is prepared for anything. She's the healer, the anonymous one who jogs onto court with a bag bulging with magic potions, the one who asks questions, wraps ankles, cleans blisters and allows contests to continue.

In short, Ayala has three minutes of the injury time-out to fix dreams.

Amateurs also have on-court, first-aid kits, though it usually includes an expired Band-Aid, spit and a sweaty towel. And so I've always wondered what's inside those bags that physios carry till Ayala lays one on a table and unzips it.

Contact lens solution.

Seriously?

And a small mirror to help with the process.

Then a strange instrument emerges which could be a sister of a pair of scissors and looks like it's been stolen from the Grey's Anatomy set. It's a ring cutter. But of course. Just in a case a finger swells.

Stuff happens on a tennis court. Bees sting. There's a spray. Stress rises. There's a blood pressure cuff. Laces break. Relax, she has some.

She always has to be ready because when a player is hurt you can't say "I don't have this" or "just a minute". Because there aren't that many. So she has a paper bag to facilitate slow deep breaths in case of hyperventilation and a sports drink with "extra salt in it". What are you going to do when a player is cramping in the heat? Call the player restaurant for the salt shaker?

Small things matter in sport, little stuff can affect athletes. Like pillows. Ayala thinks it's a good idea to carry them on long flights. Or socks. The wearing of which was one of the first lessons the legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to give his players. As the UCLA Newsroom reported, he once said:

"We don't want any sign of a wrinkle (once you put on the sock)... The wrinkle will be sure you get blisters, and those blisters are going to make you lose playing time, and if you're good enough, your loss of playing time might get the coach fired."

Amateurs are lucky to find matching socks on weekend mornings, pros get lectures on them. "We educate players on changing socks at the set break," said Ayala, especially in hot places like Australia. Players also get a physical every two years, bio-mechanical screening and an information guide on how to ready themselves for surface changes.

Stuff happens on a tennis court. Bees sting. There's a spray. Stress rises. There's a blood pressure cuff. Laces break. Relax, she has some. She always has to be ready because when a player is hurt you can't say "I don't have this" or "just a minute". Because there aren't that many.

What injuries come with clay courts? What drills do you need for grass? Why should you break in several pairs of shoes before playing on rubberised courts? Everything is neatly laid out like the ingredients in her bag.

One of which is nail polish remover!

Confounding? No, simple. "If a player is wearing nail polish and injures her finger, we need to be able to assess the nail bed and see if it's black and blue underneath." So, remover it is.

Ayala is a PHCP or Primary Health Care Provider, of which there are two at the courts here and one at the hotel along with two massage therapists. In short she's a physical therapist with an extra degree in athletic training not to mention a diploma in patience as she continues to educate me on the contents of her bag.

Stethoscope. Bio-hazard bag. Prince Grip Plus. Which presumably is the modern version of the sawdust Ivan Lendl once used to keep his palms dry.

And tape. Enough tape to mummify a player. Tapes in different colours. Tapes that have different strength. Tapes that are pre-cut into different shapes and sizes so that not a second is wasted in snipping.

If an ankle is sprained, she will start with a Quick Drying Adhesive spray on the foot, then put a heel and lace pad, a pre-wrap and finally, depending on the injury, one or two types of tape.

There, go, play, win.

PHCPs like Ayala always seem to move with urgency on court: taping, listening, asking. "When we assess them," she says, "we say, let pain be your guide: if it doesn't feel right, you need to stop. I think they know when their bodies can take more and when they need to stop."

I ask if it surprises her how much pain athletes can bear and she pauses and says: "People might be surprised at how good they are at pushing their body to the limits of what the body can take."

This includes occasionally losing toenails and some players will tape every toe before every match as a preventive measure. Of course, it should be noted this is not merely an injury issue.

Said Ayala with a smile: "Sometimes if they have a nice pedicure they don't want to ruin their pedicure. Because we are females and we like our nice-looking feet."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'From nail polish remover to ring cutter, physio is ready for anything'. Print Edition | Subscribe