The State of Disabled Sport in The UK

As a neurological physiotherapist, I am used to urging my patients to do physical exercise but I admit, it’s invariably targeted towards achieving specific goals which result in increased function eg. able to transfer independently between bed and chair, improvement in gait, able to use their hemiplegic upper limb when eating/dressing. 

After all, we’re constantly encouraged to direct our interventions towards achieving SMART goals, with an emphasis on function.

But are we missing a trick here? I believe I certainly am, as I don’t generally educate my patients on the many benefits to physical and mental health of general exercise/physical activity. It’s so easy to focus on specific, measurable & functional goals that I forget to look at the whole picture, at the person’s general life. Wearing my “rehab blinkers” I aim my interventions, and the patient’s home exercise programme, solidly towards the physio goals, ignoring the rest of their wellbeing.

A study by Activity Alliance has given me real food for thought. They conducted a UK Survey comparing disabled & non-disabled adults’ experience of sport & physical activity, and here are some of their key findings:

  • Disabled adults are twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be physically inactive (42 per cent vs 21 per cent). 
  • Four in five (81%) disabled adults want to do more activity than they currently do, compared with fewer than three in five (57%) non-disabled people.
  • Just 40% disabled people feel they are given the opportunity to be as active as they would like to be, compared with 71% of non-disabled people.
  • Disabled people are half as likely as non-disabled people to agree that ‘sport’ is for someone like them (32% vs 63%).
  • Three in five (59 per cent) disabled people say they would listen to physiotherapists in regard to taking part in physical activity.

In response to the survey findings, the Activity Alliance have produced guidance:

  1. To address the wider determinants of inactivity
  2. Design and lead a choice of accessible activities
  3. Challenge perceptions through inclusive and accessible communications

So that’s what Activity Alliance are doing, but what am I going to do?

  1. Now that I know that many patients are open to being advised on the matter, I am determined to become an evangelist for physical activity as a means to improve physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improving quality of life.
  2. I’ve started getting together some written information, and online links, to guide people towards local activities and facilities.
  3. I plan to start targeting some rehab interventions towards facilitation of sporting/general exercise activities.