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Physiotherapy for the homeless with Crisis at Christmas

As physiotherapists, we’re often asked to reflect on our practice. So, as autumn kicks in and preparations are already afoot for the next Optimum Physiotherapy Christmas party, I’d like to look back to last December??to talk about some volunteering I was involved in. A??group of physiotherapists took part in the annual Crisis at Christmas event which provides a range of health and other support??services for homeless people in London??over the festive period. I was asked to join in by a friend of mine who was helping to??run the service, and I decided to give it a go.

Crisis at Christmas

The homeless situation

On the day I volunteered we met up at a school in London which was being used a base to co-ordinate all the activities. We were assigned into teams and then sent off to various clinics around the capital where we would provide a physiotherapy clinic to homeless patients. As you may have seen in the news, the homelessness situation??has worsened over the past few years. The number of rough sleepers on any given night is estimated at over 3,500 for 2015 (double the number from 2010!), while many tens of thousands more are described as the??”hidden homeless” – those who are sleeping on a friend’s sofa perhaps, or are in some other sort of temporary or precarious??accommodation.

Those who find themselves in??such situations often experience a range of mental and physical problems, and at a higher rate than the housed population. What makes the issue worse is that many homeless people lack access to the services to help them with these problems,??which is why the annual Crisis clinics are a good opportunity to see an often forgotten group of people.

Through luck of the draw, I was assigned to the clinic that happened to be allocated at the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC.??The club was hosting a large five-a-side football tournament between all the Crisis shelters across London, and we were there to provide a clinic for anyone with ongoing issues as this would be a good opportunity to see a potentially large number of people in a short time period. My team comprised me and another qualified physio, as well as two eager physio students who had sports massage experience.

Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC

Setting up our clinic

When we arrived, we helped to set up the area and established our own physio corner with a fold-out couch, some chairs and some basic equipment. It wasn’t long before players started to drift in, and we found that most of the problems??were from injuries sustained during some very intense and competitive five-a-side football. There were plenty of cuts and scrapes??but also some sprained knees and ankles and even a foot fracture. We also saw some more longstanding??complaints involving backs, necks and shoulders – just as you would in any group of people. Our patients came from all around the UK and beyond and were an interesting mix of ages, genders and life experiences.

One of the qualities that physios pride themselves on is their ability to adapt to the situation and improvise where needed! At times we were under a lot of pressure and had to triage, asking our students to get stuck in with some quick massages while we boiled down our assessments and treatments to the essentials, making sure that people had some key bits of advice or an exercise before they disappeared. Very often you would turn around, only to turn back again and find your patient hobbling off to battle it out in a quarter final! The level of commitment was a stark contrast to some professional footballers??who seem to need an ambulance for a light knee graze…

Professional diving!

The day was a great success by all accounts and I learnt a lot from it. Some of the main takeaway points for me were:

  • Learning to be efficient in your assessments and treatments when time is of the essence
  • Working as a team to prioritise based on different people’s skills
  • Spending some time with a marginalised group??and??acknowledging??them as people and their needs

If you’re interested in helping out at this??year’s Crisis at Christmas, then have a look here. Physiotherapy services are focused in London but other centres are located in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Coventry and Birmingham and there are loads of different??ways to help out.