Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Kinesiology or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Foot

There is still no official confirmation but the media chattering concerning Craig Bellamy's injury status is getting more deafening by the day. George Caulkin, writing in this morning's Times, claims the striker requires surgery and could miss the rest of the season. He is to undergo two procedures on a knee and his groin, robbing Alan Curbishley of a formidable presence in attack and, concludes Caulkin, undermining further the club’s challenge for European football. Bellamy is expected to have surgery for the first time this week, more than three months after he was first operated on in Germany. Laser surgery appeared to have cleared up his problem, but the forward suffered a recurrence and was out until ten days ago, when he appeared as a substitute against Wigan Athletic. He played in a friendly match two days later, but felt uncomfortable despite scoring.

Bellamy moved to London in the expectation of playing first-team football more regularly than he did at Anfield, but that has not been fulfilled. He has made only seven league starts for the club since his £7.5 million transfer from Liverpool in the summer and his possible unavailability for the remainder of the campaign represents another setback for Curbishley. The 28-year-old is not a stranger to injury, having suffered from a number of serious knee problems. In 2003, during his ill-fated time at Newcastle United, he travelled to the United States to be operated on by Dr Richard Steadman, a move that he subsequently admitted saved his career. An article in The Guardian notes that the injury is not believed to be that serious this time, although it will be the source of considerable frustration for the player. He returned only recently from a long-term absence with an abdominal injury.

Bellamy- missing in action

Dec 1998 (Norwich City): Two months out; injures knee.

July 1999 (Norwich): Nine months out; injures knee.

Sep 2000 (Wales): Two-match ban; sent off against Belarus.

Feb 2002 (Newcastle United): Two months out; knee injury, tendinitis.

Aug 2002 (Newcastle): One month out; recovers from knee surgery.

Sep 2002 (Newcastle): Three-match ban; head-butts Dynamo Kiev player.

Oct 2002 (Newcastle): One month out; hamstring injury.

Nov 2002 (Newcastle): Three-match ban; hits Inter Milan player, dismissed.

Oct 2003 (Newcastle): Three months out; knee surgery.

Apr 2004 (Newcastle): One month out; hamstring injury.

Aug 2005 (Blackburn Rovers): One month out; thigh injury.

Dec 2005 (Blackburn): One month out; hamstring injury.

Oct 2006 (Liverpool): One month out; calf injury.

Oct 2007 (West Ham United): Three months out; abdominal injury

There is better news concerning Kieron Dyer, where the comeback from a double fracture of his right leg is reportedly ahead of schedule. Dyer, a £6million signing from Newcastle United a fortnight before the ill-fated clash at the Memorial Ground, is said to be running at West Ham's training ground and is confident he will add to his three appearances for the club before the end of the season. According to several newspapers, sources at Upton Park have suggested he could be involved when his former club visit east London on April 26. It would be a poignant return for the midfielder, almost eight months to the day after he suffered his injury in a Carling Cup clash at Bristol Rovers. While the Mail think Dyer's return will boost West Ham's hopes of consolidating their challenge for a place in Europe, The Times are more concerned that the player will be back in contention for England’s close-season friendly internationals.

Alan Curbishley's stint at Upton Park has been marked by a long series of medical mishaps, leaving him routinely unable to name his first-choice team. It feels like Upton Park has been the setting for Casualty this season, observes Caulkin, but very soon West Ham may be screening a television programme on alternative remedies. Freddie Ljungberg is famed for performing yoga before matches to alleviate persistent niggles, while Matthew Upson uses torn-up pages from a telephone directory to solve his calf problem and now the England defender is seeing a sports psychologist to clear his head during matches. It is clearly working. Plagued by injury thoroughly his career, Upson has not missed a single minute of Premier League action for West Ham United this season. His resurgence gained full recognition after the centre back was selected for Fabio Capello's first England squad, going on to impress playing the full 90 minutes of the 2-1 win over Switzerland.

It is all a far cry from Upson's first season at Upton Park when a recurring calf problem restricted him to just 41 minutes of football following his £8million move from Birmingham in January. "I was having scans and injections to take fluid out of my leg and I was about to have surgery to cut through the calf. It would have been a dreadful operation to go through," recalls Upson. The career threatening injury was ultimately cured in most unorthodox fashion after Upson was advised to stuff torn up sheets of the Yellow Pages into his boots by kinesiology expert – the science of how the feet affect the rest of the body - Ron Holder. Upson spent hours on the internet in search of a surgery-free solution to his injury hell and eventually found Holder, a South African who has helped a host of sportsmen. "I’d had various treatments on the calf which had all failed," explains Upson. "But Ronald specialises in kinesiology, applying it to sports medicine. He is fantastic and the best person I have ever worked with. Kinesiology is to do in part with the feet and how all different parts of your feet relate to different parts of your body." Upson was ‘cured’ after a two-hour consultation with Holder — paid for out of his own pocket. He added: "As your body adjusts, he’ll take the papers out bit by bit from my boots. I wear them inside my trainers, in my normal shoes and even if I am wearing flip flops."

Kinesiology is an holistic and complementary therapy which helps the body recover from illness and injury by restoring its energy balance. "It's a way to get your body in line, especially for someone like myself who is 28 years old but has had a history of problems," explains Upson. "When you have surgery it knocks your body out of line so that when you come back you might be loading that area of your body differently which, in turn, can build up other problems. I had six months with a torn calf and I was chasing my tail everywhere to get fit before I met Ronald Holder. He had a dramatic effect. I was able to get him over just before I was due to have the operation. I just thought I would give it a real go for a week, three times a day, and I haven't missed a training session since then, which was six months ago. He uses Yellow Pages, he cuts a heel wedge or something for the toe or outside of the foot. He has a way of testing you which is clever. I remember once he put the wedge in, I went out to train for 20 minutes, came back in and he saw I was not quite in line. He took one page out of the wedge, put it back in and I went back out there. Such a small margin. A lot of people would say it's crazy but it's worked for me. I see him whenever I can and will continue to do so as long as it keeps working."

Upson had previously felt that psychology was the type of thing that Tiger Woods or Lewis Hamilton employed, but not football players, but has since demonstrated a willingness to explore all avenues when it comes to keeping himself in tip top condition extending beyond the physical, hence his reliance on the science of sports psychology. "You go so far in your career and if you are not making the right kind of progress then you have to change some things," said Upson of his decision to seek the one on one help of a sports psychologist. "I use someone who I speak to a lot about my performance and we analyse everything; my behaviour, my training during the week, everything. It is now starting to pay off. I have been turning out pretty consistent performances, which is something I have been working really hard on for the last 18 months".

Such focusing of the mind has become as integral part of Upson's match preparation as any gruelling training session under the orders of manager Alan Curbishley. "I am mentally preparing myself for the games and knowing that even if some days you go in and you don't feel great at the start of a game, it is a case of mentally adapting and making sure you put in a good performance," reveals Upson. "The preparation starts on Thursday or Friday for a Saturday game – it is a case of finding the time whenever you want to sit down and think positively about what you are doing to do at the weekend. That is an important factor for players; to be able to visualise what they are going to do before they do it. It (mental focus) is a massive part of the game; just as important as physical training, if not more important. Some people habitually can do it, they can focus. Some people can't. You can train, teach yourself, or, with help, learn to improve those skills and have a dramatic effect on your performance. It is quite a personal thing."

So personal, Upson is perhaps understandably unwilling to divulge the details of his sessions on the psychiatrist's coach. But he is no doubt as to the beneficial effect of such preparation on his game. "I have changed a lot," insists Upson. "Mentally, I am much stronger and more aware of what my job is and how to go about it. Physically, I am in the best shape of my life and that will only improve with the training and the work that is going on. I can 100 per cent say I am a much better player. Every day I want to get better and I want to learn, I want to improve and those are the things that are going to help me achieve what I want to do."

High on that list of ambitions is the burning desire to ensure his return to the international scene is more than just a fleeting visit. "First and foremost, I am concerned with West Ham United, the results we get and making sure I am ready to play for them," said Upson. "But definitely it (England) is something I think about, something I want to do and achieve again. That is what I am working towards. That is the pinnacle in everyone's career, to represent their country and it is something that I am very hungry to do again."


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