After a great 2014/15 season where she was crowned British National Champion and went on to equal her career-best world ranking of 3, the start of the 2015/16 season has been frustrating for England’s Alison Waters, suffering a serious back injury in the first world series event of the year at the US Open in Philadelphia.
Happily, she’s now on the comeback trail and is targeting a return to competitive action before the end of the year.
Alison spoke to us about her injury and some of the trials and tribulations of her rehab.
SquashSkills: So what exactly was the injury you suffered?
Alison Waters: I’ve been diagnosed by the physio with a disc bulge in my spine.
SquashSkills: How did it happen?
Alison: I felt my back tighten a bit during one of the rallies in my US Open 1st round match with Vicki Lust, but I managed to play through it and take the match 3-2. It was only when I cooled down and the adrenaline of the match started to wear off, that it started to become much more painful.
My first thought was that it must have come from something I’d done in the match, but in hindsight, I’d actually had one or two occasions where I’d experienced back pain/stiffness in the past 12 months, so it was most likely just a cumulative thing.
SquashSkills: Did you manage to get treatment on it straight away? It must have been difficult being out there, miles from your home base?
Alison: Fortunately we had Jade our England Squash Physio out there for the tournament, so she was able to take a look and give me some treatment.
I made the decision to try and play my 2nd round match with Dipika Pallikal, hoping the treatment and the rest day would be enough for it to ease off, but I really struggled physically in the game and ended up losing in 5.
My flight back wasn’t until a few days after, so I stayed on and carried on working with Jade who did what she could to help ease it off. The eventual plane journey back was a nightmare, as it was very difficult to find a pain-free position that I was able to comfortably sit in.
SquashSkills: What was the next step, once you were back in the UK?
Alison: I saw my personal physio when I got home, and she sent me for an MRI scan which confirmed that it was a disc bulge. My lower back was stuck in spasm, so I was prescribed muscle relaxants along with the ongoing manual manipulations from my physio.
SquashSkills: How soon were you able to start your rehab?
Alison: The medication really helped to start to ease off some of the pain and stiffness in my back, so after a week or so of rest I was able to get back in the gym and do a bit of light work on the bike. I also had access to an ‘anti-gravity’ treadmill there which was particularly useful, allowing me to maintain a comfortable posture and keep my sessions very low impact.
SquashSkills: What kinds of exercises did you have prescribed for the next phase of your rehab? How frequently do you have to do them?
Alison: My physio has given me a lot of core and glute strengthening exercises, which is something that is going to really become a big part of my training going forward now. I need to rehab the current injury, but also work on strengthening my core region to really help make sure I don’t suffer any other injuries there down the line.
I still have a series of exercises I do to maintain strength in my ankle due to the issues I’ve had there with another injury in the past, so I’m currently doing my core work alongside that usually twice a day at the moment.
SquashSkills: How long after the initial injury were you able to get back on court? It must have been frustrating not being able to play for so long?
Alison: It was about 4 weeks after the US Open that I first got back on court, but it was basically just solo hitting and some very light ghosting, to begin with.
I’ve started to get in a few hits with other players now, but still keeping everything fairly predictable so as not to have to twist and turn too much. Over the next week or two now, I’ll be slowly adding in more and more open routines and eventually some full matches.
SquashSkills: When do you think you’ll be back to full fitness? Have you got a particular tournament in mind?
Alison: Hong Kong is a couple of weeks away, and though I’d like to play there it might be a little too soon for me.
My main goal now is to get fully fit for the World Championships in mid-December, that’s the tournament I’m really targeting. I’ll play a few league matches beforehand, to help ensure I’m not just fit, but properly match sharp as well.
SquashSkills: What would you say to any squash players out there suffering from injuries, and going through the rehab process themselves?
Alison: Just keep at it. Rehab programmes can be boring, but it’s a crucial part of recovering from an injury ? for me, I just have to tackle it head-on and see it as a part of my job. It’s important to really stick with it, and go through the whole process
SquashSkills: Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak to us Alison, and all the best for the World Championships from all of us here at SquashSkills.
Alison: Thank you. I’d also like to just say thanks to my physio Nicky Combarro for all her help and support over the past few weeks.
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