July 15, 2022

Athletic Therapists and the CFL: Experts at Work

While athletic therapists work with a variety of patients, we are known for our quick-thinking in on-field emergencies involving professional and amatuer athletes. Athletic therapists play an important role on the support team for many sports — and we’re proud to be a part of the team in the Canadian Football League (CFL).

Professional athletes receive treatment from athletic therapists because the goal is to maintain optimal performance for each player and ensure recovery from any strains and stress from the natural course of game play. CATA has many Certified Athletic Therapists (CAT(C)s) who are essential to the sports we all love to watch, like football!

CAT(C) Tristan Castonguay became head athletic therapist of the Montreal Alouettes in June 2021. Not only is he the youngest AT in this role with the CFL, he is also making incredible advancements in our profession by investigating a new method of imaging for musculoskeletal injuries.

We spoke with him to learn more about his role as an athletic therapist with the team and his approach to player wellness and wellbeing. Before joining the CFL, Tristan studied athletic therapy and completed both his bachelor and master’s degree at Concordia University. He discovered a passion for helping active people recover from an injury and has been looking for new ways to best support athletes ever since.

Tell us about your role as an athletic therapist with the Alouettes.

As the head athletic therapist, I oversee the rehabilitation team and coordinate medical providers so that the players get the best treatments possible, as quickly as possible. We created an amazing multidisciplinary medical team that complements the skills of every healthcare professional we work with to cover a wide variety of conditions in-house.

What are your key responsibilities with regards to team performance and health?

On the medical side, my main responsibility with the team is to work closely with our team doctor to make sure we provide the best care possible to our players. I do everything from organizing imaging appointments, taking care of the insurance papers, coordinating medical exams to overseeing the treatments provided by our multidisciplinary medical team.

On the football operations side: my role is to enable players to be as healthy as possible so the coaches and the general manager are able to assemble the best team week after week. I’m also responsible for keeping coaches up-to-date on all of the injuries to let them know of when they can expect to see player X or Y return to the field following an injury.

Can you tell us more about how athletic therapists support the athletes throughout the entire season?

We support athletes all throughout the year to ensure they are ready for the season. Our roles depend on the time of year as the football season can be separated in multiple phases.

During pre-season we organize pre-participation medical exams and make sure all athletes are fit to participate, including investigating pre-existing conditions to clear athletes to play. Our role as athletic therapist is very important in ensuring that all players participating are healthy and fit to play. In-season, we try to keep everyone safe through injury prevention programs, providing them with preventative treatments and injury rehabilitation. Even in the off-season, we continue to focus on rehabilitating ongoing injuries and local players.

Do you see the role of athletic therapist changing with the CFL in the next few years? If so, how?

The role of ATs might change with regards to the education that we provide athletes about medication. ATs need to be aware and educated on the different drugs that can be prescribed to the athletes by the doctors [in order to be] able to answer questions and educate them on the correct use of the medication. ATs should also play a bigger role in the strength and conditioning portion of the football operations as some CAT(C)s are also kinesiologists and certified strength and conditioning specialists (CSCS).

Are there common injuries you see during a season? What is the role of an AT in diagnosis or treatment?

The most common injuries are definitely muscle strains. The role of the AT is to make sure that a clear treatment plan is established with short-term and medium-term goals discussed and explained with the athlete. The sooner we can start the rehabilitation, the sooner the player should be able to go back on the field. The clear explanation of a plan and goals should also improve the compliance of the athletes in their rehab and accelerate the process as well.

As an AT, our goal is to be the first expert consulted, make the decision whether to remove the player from the play or not, and then to take charge of the rehabilitation. For the diagnosis, the doctors will always be involved. We might require imaging or consultations with medical experts to pin-point the diagnosis in order to give the coaching staff an estimation for the return to play timeline. ATs never work alone and we love to work in a team.

Why is athletic therapy important for CFL athletes?

As ATs, we hold a very particular position in the football operations where we care for the wellbeing of the athlete first and then we think about the team. An athlete’s wellbeing will always override the needs of the coaching staff. For this reason, we are able to gain players’ confidence and we become a very helpful resource to the players. We become the first person they consult for football-related issues as well as daily life issues.

We also become the point of contact for all players coming from somewhere else and we help them and their families as much as we can. The players understand that we are there to help and we have the knowledge to help them as well. We are experts in our fields and players definitely appreciate all the info we can provide them.

As a certified athletic therapist, Tristan focuses on injury assessment and rehabilitation, which is critical for an athlete with a high activity level. Tristan is able to help his athletes get back to the field and play the game they love. Athletic therapists can help people of all activity levels get back to doing the things they are passionate about.

If you are interested in seeing what an Athletic therapist can do for you, find one in your neighbourhood on our website. Make sure to stay up to date with CATA by following us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn!